EL MONTE — Challenger Jim Marin doesn't mince words when he explains why he wants to defeat Mayor Donald McMillen in the April 8 municipal election.
The mayor, Marin claims, supported spending $6 million to renovate City Hall and has taken his wife on extensive trips at city expense.
But McMillen, backed by city records and the city's finance director, says Marin's allegations simply are not true.
For one thing, only $2.7 million was approved by the City Council last fall for the renovation, according to McMillen and city records. An architect hired by the city had recommended a plan that would have cost $6 million, but the council balked at the cost, McMillen said.
"He was completely wrong," said McMillen, a 63-year-old retired businessman who has served on the City Council since 1980 and is seeking a second term as mayor. The mayor is a member of the council. "The $6 million was for a more comprehensive remodeling program that the city decided not to do."
As for the travel expenditures, "My wife keeps asking me what woman I took with me because she didn't get to go (on most trips)," McMillen said.
McMillen said in an interview last week that he paid his wife's expenses on all but one trip, which was to Rancho Bernardo for a conference of the Assn. of Independent Cities. McMillen said the $300 fee for the conference, which was attended by several other council members and their spouses, included wives. City Finance Director Marv Louie confirmed that McMillen had reimbursed the city for all trips involving his wife, except the Rancho Bernardo conference.
But Marin, a 33-year-old high school administrator, still will not back down, saying he has a source, whom he refuses to identify, who can substantiate the charges.
"His (McMillen's) greatest accomplishment is committing $6 million to remodel and redecorate City Hall," Marin said in his official candidate's statement, which will appear on the sample ballot. The statement also said McMillen's wife, Flo, traveled with him "across the U. S. and to Mexico" at city expense and urged voters to "end this abuse of public trust."
The mayor's position is largely ceremonial, but the mayor does have authority to appoint members of most commissions, boards and committees with council approval. The mayor is elected separately from the council and serves a two-year term. Council terms are four years.
Marin, a former El Monte City School District board member who was defeated for reelection last fall, says that the election is a referendum on the City Hall renovation. Marin acknowledged that his $6-million figure for the City Hall renovation came from a local newspaper story and that he had not checked the public record on the cost.
City Hall 'Last Priority'
Regardless of the amount of money approved, Marin said, the funds allocated for the City Hall project could be better used for street improvements and other community services. "The City Hall is the very last priority," Marin said. "I think the priority is the people and the needs of the people."
McMillen countered that $12.7 million has been earmarked this year for road work, including a new railroad overpass at Peck Road and the complete resurfacing of Valley Boulevard within the city.
McMillen said the city's most pressing issue is economic development, not the City Hall project. He cited several redevelopment efforts he has supported, including the giant Home Club hardware store and renovation planned for the Valley Mall, as evidence that his leadership has helped encourage a rebirth in the sagging retail community. He also hailed the Ramona Boulevard residential project, which includes more than 140 townhomes.
"The only way to increase revenues in the city is to increase the sales tax base," said McMillen, adding that the Home Club store, in a closed Sears outlet, is expected to generate $30 million in sales its first year.
Criticizes Mall Project
But Marin said the city has done too little too late to halt the deterioration of the Valley Mall, the main downtown shopping district. He said the city's Community Redevelopment Agency will have wasted more than $100,000 on designs for renovating it unless new anchor stores can be found to replace the J. C. Penney store that closed last fall and the Thrifty scheduled to close at the end of April.
"The people on the City Council haven't had the vision to see this was going to happen," he said.
Both candidates agree that the city should fight the proposal for a landfill just across the city limits in Arcadia.
Former Mayor Tom Keiser, a supporter and friend of Marin, said he thinks Marin stands a good chance if he can make the City Hall renovation project the central issue. But others active in municipal politics say McMillen seems firmly entrenched because some progress has been made on redevelopment.