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Courtesy a Casualty : City Manager in Middle as Torrance Council Chafes Under New Leadership

August 07, 1986|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

TORRANCE — The honeymoon is over.

After priding themselves for many years on harmony, courtesy, and keeping the city's dirty linen private, City Council members are increasingly argumentative among themselves at meetings and have publicly voiced displeasure with City Manager LeRoy Jackson.

"All you have to do is watch TV," said first-year Councilwoman Dee Hardison, referring to the weekly live telecasts of council meetings on cable television. "It does not give the city a very good light. It's kind of an awkward time."

Because of its past tradition of keeping potentially embarrassing city matters private, many of those interviewed--council members, city officials, business representatives and presidents of homeowner groups were hesitant to discuss the apparent divisiveness among council members. Some would not comment; others would only talk if their names were not used.

Reasons for Change

Those interviewed gave at least four reasons for the changing character of the council:

- A new mayor, the first woman to hold that office, who is still not totally accepted by some male council members and who is replacing a strong, well-liked and respected mayor.

- A change in the makeup of the council; three of the seven members have served less than three years.

- A tight 1986-87 budget that forced council members to compete to get their pet projects funded.

- A shift from a pro-business to a pro-residential attitude that has been going on for three years but has intensified as new council members have been elected.

Sources close to the council have said some council members are chauvinistic and do not pay Mayor Katy Geissert the respect shown to the men on the council. Her efforts to run council meetings have been frequently challenged, something they said did not happen often while Jim Armstrong was mayor.

Regarding her sex, Geissert said, "That may be difficult for some people to deal with but I believe I have generally been accepted."

Slow-Growth Shift

But it is the shift by the council to a slow-growth approach that began in 1984 that seems to be the biggest factor for the change in the council's public image.

"There's always been some conflict on the council," said Michael Bedinger, an airport commissioner and president of the Council of Homeowners Assns. of Torrance, an umbrella group of homeowners groups. "But I think lately that the council that represents the Chamber (of Commerce) and commercial interests has been changed with people who represent the (pro-residential) interests. People who were on the winning side are now on the losing side."

Barbara Honeycutt, president of the Southwood Assn., said she is concerned that the public disagreements could get out of hand.

"We don't want a rubber-stamp council," she said. "We can have constructive criticism." She quoted a phrase often used by former Mayor Armstrong that "we can disagree but we don't have to be disagreeable."

Robert Seitz, Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, declined to comment, but another member of the business community expressed concern.

More Polarized

"The council seems more polarized than in previous years," said the businessman, who asked that his name not be used. "The harmony that was there, the mutual respect that was there has dwindled. It seems no middle ground is being reached any more. It seems (issues) go one way or the other. That's not only not good for the business community, I don't think it's good for the community in general."

The disagreement over the city manager's effectiveness, sources said, is the most visible example of maneuvering by council members to establish power.

The sources say the lines are drawn this way: Mayor Geissert and Hardison are Jackson's strongest supporters and Councilmen Bill Applegate and Tim Mock are his strongest critics. Councilmen George Nakano, Mark Wirth and Dan Walker represent the middle ground.

Council members said the battle intensified early last month behind closed doors when a council committee on executive salaries--made up of Nakano, Mock and Applegate--recommended a 4% pay raise to all department managers except Jackson, whom they faulted on several counts. Jackson's salary is $80,000 a year.

Caught Unawares

The recommendation to deny Jackson a raise caught Hardison, Wirth and Mayor Geissert unawares.

"It was a surprise to me," said Hardison after the meeting. "I was not even aware that he was a concern. I thought it was very unfair."

Walker said he was not surprised by the committee's recommendation because he knew some committee members had reservations about Jackson's performance.

The entire council met privately with Jackson this week to discuss their concerns.

And, after an executive session Tuesday, Jackson said the council had not completed its evaluation of him and would defer any action until the next meeting.

Sources said committee members have expressed several reservations about Jackson:

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