WHITTIER — Councilman Lee Strong, one of the city's biggest boosters of economic redevelopment in Uptown Village and along Whittier Boulevard, resigned Friday to accept a post on the county Regional Planning Commission.
Strong, 63, said he decided to step down from the Whittier council to avoid any conflict of interest. Because planning commissioners report directly to the Board of Supervisors, the county counsel's office told Strong he might wind up recommending action on an issue that would affect Whittier, creating a possible conflict of interest.
"The county counsel's office never told Mr. Strong he could not serve on both the council and commission," said Mickie Silverstein, a spokesman for Supervisor Pete Schabarum. "But to eliminate any doubt, he chose to resign."
Silverstein said Strong will be named by the board on Tuesday to the five-member planning commission. The appointment was to take place a week ago, but was postponed to allow Strong time to resign from the council, Silverstein said.
Strong's appointment to the commission is for four years. He runs a consulting business in Whittier that specializes in municipal redevelopment and downtown management.
Term Expires in 1988
While disappointed at leaving the council before his term expires in 1988, Strong said the chance to shape growth and development in unincorporated areas of the county is a "one-time-only thing."
Strong said he debated for several days whether to remain on the council before accepting the county post. He fills a vacancy created by the recent resignation of Commissioner Delta Murphy, who was appointed in 1980 after serving on the Whittier council for four years, including two as mayor.
Strong was first elected to the council in April, 1980, and was reelected in April, 1984. In an interview, Strong said he had not intended to run for a third term.
Under Whittier city law, the council can appoint a replacement to finish Strong's term. If no one is appointed within 60 days, the city must hold a special election to fill the vacancy.
Cost of a special election could run as much as $20,000, said City Manager Thomas Mauk. Another possibility, he said, is to hold an election for Strong's seat in conjunction with the June state primary, which would be cheaper. It is too late, Mauk said, to add Strong's vacancy to the April 8 city election.
Two council members, Victor Lopez and Gene Chandler, face reelection this spring. Both have filed documents with the city clerk's office to run again. Three potential challengers--dental assistant Romana Pokorny, accountant Thomas Theisen and local activist William McEwen--have taken out nomination papers but have not returned them to City Hall.
Deadline for entering the race is Thursday.
The council, Mauk said, will probably appoint someone to fill Strong's seat, at least temporarily.
"We have a number of commissions and civic groups in this city," he said, "and I am confident the council can find an able replacement very soon."
The council's next scheduled meeting is Feb. 11, but Mauk said it may meet sooner to discuss the vacancy.
Whittier Mayor Myron Claxton was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Strong, who has lived in Whittier for 42 years, said the progress of redevelopment, particularly in Uptown Village, is among his proudest achievements as a council member. When Strong joined the council six years ago, redevelopment was just beginning.
Since then, the entire Uptown shopping district has changed markedly with the addition of cobblestone intersections, new storefronts and the soon-to-be-completed Whittier Hilton, an eight-story hotel anchoring the village on Greenleaf Avenue.
"Nobody likes to leave before the job is done," said Strong. "But the chance to be a part of county planning is something I look forward to."
Mauk described Strong as a "contributor," particularly in the area of redevelopment.