HERMOSA BEACH — City Councilman George Barks attempted this week to oust Mayor Jack Wood from the largely ceremonial office after disclosures that Wood provided false information on a city health insurance form last year in order to qualify his girlfriend for coverage.
But while several councilmen said in interviews that they shared Barks' concerns over the health insurance incident, none of them supported his move Monday night to remove Wood. In separate interviews this week, the councilmen characterized Barks' motive as political and said any action by the council against Wood would divide the council and reflect poorly on the city.
The City Council, which chooses one of its members every nine months to serve as mayor, selected Wood in July. Both Wood and Barks, who directly preceded Wood as mayor and is Wood's chief political rival on the council, have announced that they will seek reelection to the council in April.
Barks said in an interview this week that information from the health insurance form contained in a Times article last Sunday compelled him to take a public stand on the issue. He denied that the move to oust Wood was political.
'At Least 25 Calls'
"I am not at all passing judgment that these charges are true, but I feel they have raised a cloud over Mr. Wood," Barks said. "I have gotten at least 25 calls about this. I think it would be the right thing for him to resign." Barks said several callers wanted Wood to resign from the council, but Barks proposed only that he step down from the mayor's post.
The article, based on documents released by the city as part of a settlement with civic activist Roger Creighton, reported that Wood falsely identified his girlfriend, Helena Toulmet, as his wife on the insurance form, listed her with a hyphenated version of his last name and included a fictitious wedding date for the couple.
As early as last February, Wood acknowledged that he had enrolled his girlfriend as a dependent, claiming that he was mistakenly told by an unnamed city official that he could do so. Wood paid the monthly premium for Toulmet--she made no claims during her three months of coverage--and later removed her from the form when city officials told him that she was ineligible. Only employees, their children and legally married spouses qualify for health and dental insurance, according to city officials.
Listed as Wife
But the documents released last week show for the first time that Wood, 42, falsely listed Toulmet, 35, as his wife to get coverage for her. Wood said last week that the couple will not be married until next May.
Creighton, who sued the city to get the documents, has pledged to bring the information to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and to request a criminal investigation of Wood and another former city employee whom he suspects of listing an ineligible dependent.
"A year ago, people were displeased, but now they know exactly what he did," Barks said in the interview. "People are expressing concern and shock over what he did. I didn't think it would be good for the council to merely ignore it."
Wood has accepted full responsibility for the insurance form, but he denied in interviews last week and this week that he did anything wrong. He said that enrolling Toulmet did not cost the city any money and that he would not have completed the form in the same way if he had been required to do so under oath.
Wood characterized his overall attitude toward filling out forms as "lousy," saying that many forms require more information than he likes to give. But Wood insisted that his attitude about filling out forms is unrelated to his beliefs in honesty and integrity in government.
"I don't think that anybody on the council has a stronger reputation for being a straighter talker than me," Wood said. "I have always been accused of being unfortunately blunt and telling it like it is. To turn around and say that I am some sneaky individual who falsifies documents to rip off the city just isn't true.
"If I checked off the married box, I don't feel I have lied. If someone interviewed me, I would say she is a dependent of mine, and I want to take care of her for health purposes. . . . If I want the form to become operative, what do I do? I just checked the box--whatever it takes to get the job done."
While Wood's colleagues on the council did not support Barks' effort to oust the mayor, all three said in interviews that they are concerned about the way Wood filled out the insurance form. For various reasons, however, the councilmen said it was inappropriate for them to take action against the mayor.