In the wake of an exchange of angry, accusatory letters over proposals for trash-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley, West Covina Mayor Forest Tennant said Wednesday that he hopes a strong candidate will emerge to oppose county Supervisor Pete Schabarum's bid for reelection in June.
Tennant, a Republican who has contributed money to Schabarum's campaigns in the nonpartisan elections, said he would run against the Republican supervisor only as a "last resort."
"It's not something I want to do, but it's time we found a candidate," he said.
Tennant, who has been campaigning against trash incineration plants for months, initiated the exchange last week by circulating to the press a letter that he wrote to Schabarum accusing the supervisor of engaging in a "public charade" of neutrality while actually supporting plans to construct "giant garbage burners." Schabarum has said he will oppose any trash-to-energy plant that increases air pollution, although the issue has not come before the supervisors.
Schabarum replied Tuesday with a letter to Tennant that begins: "For several months you have trifled with the truth about waste management issues; and you have intentionally misrepresented my position on nearly every occasion.
"First I have repeatedly said that I will oppose any refuse-to-energy facility if it is found that it would add to the air pollution of the San Gabriel Valley."
The letter accuses Tennant of making false statements, questions Tennant's motivation and concludes sarcastically: "And please--next time I need a spokesman for my position I'm sure I can find one who can be a bit more accurate. Save your breath."
Some observers interpreted Tennant's letter chastising Schabarum as the opening blast in a supervisorial campaign. Schabarum is expected to seek reelection in June, although he has not announced his candidacy. Tennant said he is aware of rumors that he is planning to run for supervisor himself and "I have not ruled it out," but said his letter was not a campaign ploy.
"I'm not looking for work. I've got a job," said Tennant, a physician who runs a group of general medical and drug clinics in the San Gabriel Valley and has served on the West Covina City Council for five years.
But in his letter to Tennant, Schabarum accuses the mayor of hiding his real reasons for crusading against trash-to-energy plants.
"Finally, I must question your motivation as a spokesman on this subject in light of your hypocritical revelation to Covina Councilman Henry Morgan and myself last month on the real reasons for the position you have taken," Schabarum wrote. Reached by telephone, Schabarum declined to discuss what Tennant had said.
But Morgan, who said he was a friend of both Schabarum and Tennant, said the conversation took place at an Assistance League brunch last month at the Industry Hills Convention Center. According to Morgan, Tennant said he was being a zealot on the trash-to-energy issue because of problems with the county over clinics he operates that treat drug addiction.
Tennant said Wednesday that Morgan heard part of the conversation and got it "partially right."
Tennant said he told Schabarum that he was focusing his public comments on trash-to-energy, but was even more concerned about two other issues: county interference with city redevelopment projects and county regulation of drug treatment.
The mayor recalled saying that as a practical politician he was concentrating on the trash-to-energy issue because that's "the one the public wanted to hear about." But he said he told the supervisor that he should revamp his approach to redevelopment and drug clinics as well as trash-to-energy.
Tennant said his clinics treat about 500 drug addicts regularly and have a waiting list of 200 to 300. He said there are addicts on the street "and that's why your hub caps get stolen," referring to limits on the number of addicts his clinics are allowed to treat.
Although the county Department of Health Services is responsible for the regulation, Tennant said he blames Schabarum because the health department follows Schabarum's orders.
Mike Lewis, chief deputy for Schabarum, said the supervisor's office has become involved in Tennant's problems with county health regulators only when Tennant has asked for help. Another Schabarum aide said the number of addicts that can be treated by a clinic is controlled by the state, but the clinics are supervised by the county.
Tennant said his quarrel with the county does not involve money since treatment is paid by the state, private insurance or by the individual, not by the county.
Tennant said his motivation is irrelevant when all he is asking Schabarum to do is to take a stand against trash-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley.