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Clerk to Cleric: a New Career Goal

April 10, 1986|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

TORRANCE — Former City Clerk Donna Babb, whose four years in office were marked by allegations that she misused city funds and imposed her religious beliefs on her staff, plans to enter a seminary in the fall.

Babb, who was exonerated by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office soon after she left office last month, declined to identify the theological school she will attend.

In an interview, she said she would like to teach, minister or lecture after completing a three- to four-year program for a master's degree in divinity. A one-term clerk who decided not to seek reelection, Babb, 47, said she sees this new direction in her life as an extension of her brief political career and her strong religious convictions.

"I think I could have won reelection," she said, "but I really couldn't see myself going through all that adversity again. I really didn't see the situation improving.

"Looking back on my life, however, I see that each significant turning point has been a step toward this goal. That's not to say that even this is the end, because I think that this is another step to wherever I'm going."

The adversity she encountered in the clerk's post could be a plus in her new field, said Babb, who is a member of the Seaside Community United Church of Christ in Torrance.

"This past year I have become aware of dissension in the churches. There are a lot of political things going on in the church. The situation I have worked with over the past four years could not be more timely, could not be better preparation for my going into the ministry."

Babb said her term in office did not begin on the right foot. She said natural conflicts arose because she was an elected official whose budget was controlled by an appointed city manager. She said she believes that relationship was further strained because of pay-related grievances she had filed against the city when she worked in other positions in the clerk's office before her election.

But the biggest problem, she said, was a conflict between her religious convictions and politics.

"You have to do a bit of soul-selling and I really couldn't deal with it," she said. "It doesn't really matter what kind of conflict I have to deal with, as long as I know that I'm being true to what I believe in. That causes great difficulty, but when you're a Christian, life will be difficult.

"But, no, I have not been turned off to politics. I still find it interesting. I think it needs a lot of help. I'm not going to run for office now, but I'm not eliminating that possibility totally from the picture."

Plans to Move

Dressed in a pink sweat suit and tennis shoes and wearing a crucifix on a chain around her neck, Babb appeared relaxed as she spoke in the living room of her west Torrance home. A divorcee with three adult daughters, she plans to move from the home when she enters the seminary.

One subject she would not discuss is her former deputy city clerk, Dora Hong, who made the allegations against her in February, 1985.

But Babb did say that she expected all along to be exonerated. Candace Beason, deputy district attorney for special investigations, said no charges were filed because there was insufficient evidence.

"My life has never been as clean as it was when I served in political office," Babb said. "All of the things I did were standard operations for the city. I didn't do anything that hadn't been done in the clerk's office in the eight years I worked there before I got elected."

Among the things Babb was accused of was abusing the petty cash system, having personal items framed at city expense, using city-owned cassette recorders for personal business and using city funds to purchase a set of china for herself.

Babb said she bought an eight-place set of dishes for office use for $29.99, just under the $30 limit for petty cash purchases. "They said I bought china, but I looked under the dishes and there isn't even a mark."

Silverware she bought for $19.99 was stainless steel flatware "that wasn't even dishwasher-proof," she said.

"I bought the dishes and flatware so that when we had cake and ice cream in the office we wouldn't have to use paper plates," she said.

Babb was also accused of imposing her religious beliefs on her staff by requiring them to pray before a staff meeting, and forcing a staff member to read a book about parenting written by a minister.

She denied those allegations, saying she had merely asked that grace be said before a lunch meeting. She also said she had about 20 of her own religious books at the office and suggested that a staff member read one after the employee had expressed some personal problems.

Despite the adversity, Babb said, she feels that she made a positive difference during her term. She pointed to the findings of a management study of her office that had been ordered by the City Council last year. The study noted the low morale among staff members, but said only that some reorganization of the office structure was needed. The study also said service had improved during Babb's tenure.

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