Downey Board Has Plan to Curb Public at Council Meetings

January 26, 1986|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — The City Council plans to consider Tuesday an emergency ordinance that would limit public participation at council meetings and allow the mayor to evict disruptive spectators.

The proposed rules follow a raucous Jan. 14 council meeting that featured numerous exchanges between council members and two city gadflies, John Gonzalez and Lennie Whittington.

The proposed emergency ordinance will take effect immediately if approved by four of the council's five members, said City Atty. Carl Newton, who wrote the proposal.

One council member, Diane Boggs, said she will vote in favor of the ordinance because Gonzalez and Whittington were so "rude, arrogant and disrespectful" at the Jan. 14 meeting.

Another council member, James Santangelo, expressed reservations about the proposal saying it may punish a majority of residents for the actions of a few. A third council member, Robert Cormack, said he favors changing city procedures to control future outbursts by Gonzalez and Whittington, but that he had not read the proposed ordinance.

Mayor Bob Davila and Councilman Randy Barb could not be reached for comment.

Little-Used Policy

On Jan. 14, Gonzalez and Whittington took advantage of a little-used, unwritten council policy that allows residents to pull items off of the council's so-called consent calendar for discussion. The consent calendar groups supposedly non-controversial items for approval on a single vote.

Newton said that Gonzalez and Whittington pulled about six items off of the consent agenda and addressed the council on each one, often criticizing council members. During the three-hour meeting, Whittington and Gonzalez also spoke during two sections of the meeting set aside for public participation.

At one point, they were escorted out of the council chambers by Police Chief William Martin, who asked the two to speak with him. Afterward, Gonzalez and Whittington were allowed to return and continued to address the council.

Under the proposed ordinance, the public would no longer be allowed to pull items off of the consent calendar for discussion, and would be limited to speaking during public hearings and the time set aside for "oral communications" at the beginning and end of every meeting.

Time Limit on Speakers

The ordinance also would limit those speaking during "oral communications" to five minutes, but would impose no time limit for public hearings, Newton said.

The proposed ordinance also calls for eviction of unruly persons after two warnings from the mayor, Newton said.

Whittington declined comment on the proposed ordinance.

Gonzalez, who addressed the council at least seven times at the Jan. 14 meeting, said that if the ordinance is adopted, he would have no choice but to "obey the orders of the dictator."

During the jan. 14 meeting, Whittington accused city officials of accepting "free graft" from the operators of the city's new Embassy Suites Hotel, which offered a free weekend to local officials to celebrate the hotel's opening.

City Manager Don Davis, however, said city officials declined the free offer and that those who attended paid their own expenses.

Rights Violations Claimed

Whittington sued the city in 1983, claiming city officials violated his constitutional rights by conducting a criminal investigation of his background. He lost the case in December, 1984, in Los Angeles federal court.

Gonzalez was cited last year for several violations of the city building code for adding on to his house on Orizaba Avenue without proper building permits.

In a plea bargain, Gonzalez and his wife, Diane, pleaded guilty late last year to one count of violating the building code for installing more than one televison antenna; in exchange the the city dropped five other counts, said Deputy City Prosecutor Thomas Reeves. On Jan. 10, Gonzalez and his wife were sentenced in Downey Municipal Court to three years' probation, Reeves said.

Since he was cited for the building code violations, Gonzalez has made numerous requests for city documents while pursuing his own investigation of what he said is official "corrpution in Downey."

During the Jan. 14 council meeting, Gonzalez complained to council members about "valuable information" he said was missing from copies of building permits he had requested from the city.

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