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La Palma City Council Censures Member : Repeated Embarrassment Is Cited, but Target of Municipal Wrath Sticks by His Guns

December 18, 1985|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

The La Palma City Council on Tuesday censured Councilman Kenneth Tipton, saying he embarrassed the city repeatedly, most recently by claiming he was on official city business during a trip to New Orleans.

"The City Council has been embarrassed, and the city has been embarrassed," said Mayor Keith Nelson, who asked Tipton to apologize "for embarrassing the community once again."

The vote to censure was prompted largely by Tipton's claim last month that he could not keep a court date because he was out of town on city business, which fellow council members dispute.

Tipton, whose ongoing squabbles with neighbors about chickens, muddy driveways and broken mailboxes had occasionally been brought before the council but had never before led to censure, said he owes no one an apology.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 21, 1985 Orange County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 3 Column 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
A story in Wednesday's edition incorrectly reported that La Palma Councilman Kenneth Tipton was convicted of illegally storing hazardous chemicals on his property. Tipton actually had pleaded no contest to illegally storing trailers on his land. He was placed on one-year probation for violating the city code.

"Nobody likes to wash their dirty laundry in front of the world," Nelson said before the meeting. "This time, the council has to take a position." The censure, Nelson said, was a "public slap on the wrist."

Tipton had been scheduled to appear in Orange County Superior Court Nov.20 for a trial involving his dispute with neighbors Dag and Pat Fossen. Instead, Tipton's attorney, Ramon S. Kuzbicki, filed a request for a postponement, stating that Tipton had been "required to travel to the city of New Orleans on city business."

Orange County Superior Court Judge John H. Smith Jr. decided to check for himself whether Tipton was on city business and called City Manager Richard Rowe. Rowe told the judge that Tipton, owner of ABC Pool Service, was attending a business convention and had arranged to tour City Hall while in New Orleans, Smith said.

"Is a city councilman representing his city 24 hours a day all over the world, no matter where he goes?" Smith said when questioned Tuesday afternoon. "In my book, it didn't constitute city business. It was not a legal excuse for a continuance."

Smith denied the motion, as had another judge previously that same week, and proceeded with a counter-complaint by the Fossens, records show.

Tipton said he was in New Orleans both on personal business and as a representative of La Palma. In New Orleans, he said, he met with city officials, which he said he could not have done if he had not been a council member.

The night that Tipton left for New Orleans, Nov. 19, he had asked the council members during their regular meeting to officially recognize him as a representative of La Palma. Although the council did not vote on the matter, Councilmen Dan Collins and Richard Polis said they objected to the idea.

"I can go to Buena Park tomorrow and walk through their City Hall but that doesn't mean I'm on official city business," Collins said.

Tipton returned early from his trip and was present for the second day of the trial.

On Nov. 21, following the two-day civil trial, Smith ordered Tipton to pay his neighbors $15,000 and suggested the councilman seek professional help because he was "constantly unhappy."

"I think he could use some counseling," Smith said Tuesday outside of court. "I thought that the behavior was a bit bizarre. And anyone who behaves in that fashion should seek professional care."

The Fossens alleged that Tipton had ripped out their mailbox several times and had used a water hose to flood a dirt stretch between his home and the Fossen home, leaving the area muddy and impassable.

Last year, Tipton sued the Fossens, claiming he owned a fifth of their inoperative well. The Fossens filed a cross-complaint alleging the well was theirs and that Tipton was harassing them.

In his Nov. 21 ruling, Smith found in favor of the Fossens and said Tipton owns "no right, title, estate, interest" in the property.

The judge ordered the parties to refrain from "contacting, molesting, attacking, striking, threatening, assaulting, battering, vexing, harassing, annoying or in any other manner disturbing" each other.

Smith also said the Fossens had a right to maintain a mailbox. And he ordered Tipton to pave the easement with concrete by Saturday.

Pat Fossen, a postal service employee, said she and her husband, a free-lance writer, have wanted to cap the well because it is contaminated and, according to city codes, such abandoned wells should be capped. But Tipton, claiming he owned a fifth of the well, called the police and prevented the couple from capping it.

"It's kind of incredible in this day and age to be in a land (and) water fight--almost to death," Dag Fossen said recently.

Pat Fossen said Tipton has offered to buy her home but for less than 50% of its appraised value.

"He offered $45,000. You can't buy an outhouse in the City of La Palma for $45,000," she said.

During the trial, Councilman Collins was subpoenaed by the Fossens to testify. Collins testified he had heard Tipton threaten Pat Fossen.

Because of Collins' testimony and the judge's awareness of a potentially volatile situation, Smith said he ordered three bailiffs instead of one in the courtroom during the second day of the trial.

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