CARSON — A scolding by Mayor Sylvia Muise led two City Council members to walk out of a council meeting last week, breaking a fragile peace and threatening the city with inaction at its top level.
The Tuesday meeting abruptly came to a halt after Councilwomen Vera Robles DeWitt and Kay Calas got up and left about 9:30 p.m., leaving the mayor and Mayor Pro Tem Thomas Mills without the three members needed for a quorum.
City Clerk Helen Kawagoe, who has been clerk since 1974, said she could not recall another meeting at which a dispute caused adjournment for lack of a quorum.
For most of the summer, Councilman Walter J. (Jake) Egan has been absent from council meetings, leaving a council evenly divided between Muise and Mills in one faction and DeWitt and Calas in the other.
To Be Unseated
After Egan's conviction in July on a dozen counts of fraud and extortion, administration officials wondered whether 2-2 splits on the council would lead to municipal paralysis. Egan will be stripped of his seat Monday upon sentencing and his seat could remain vacant until March 3, unless council members agree on a successor within 30 days.
Muise said in an interview after the walkout that no paralysis had occurred, citing more than 250 four-member votes in which the split was not 2-2 and only a handful of votes in which she and Mills lined up against DeWitt and Calas.
"Things are generally moving along in the city," Muise said. "We will always have our differences of opinions." She declined to elaborate on her relations with DeWitt and Calas.
"I would like the news media to focus more on the good things," she said.
But the walkout Tuesday left the council's entire redevelopment agenda untouched, as well as two items on the regular agenda.
In particular, the council did not act on staff recommendations to begin procedures to establish an assessment district for $4.7 million in Wilmington Avenue improvements, to approve a rodeo at California State University, Dominguez Hills, for Nov. 8-9 and to award a bid for a $267,000 redevelopment project.
And on Aug. 4, in a series of 2-2 votes, the council did not approve any of Muise's nominations to city boards and commissions, a traditional means for council members to reward campaign supporters.
At the meeting, Muise challenged Calas, who wanted the nominations put off. "This item has been postponed, to the best of my knowledge, three times," the mayor said. "I wonder if I might ask Councilwoman Calas at what point you think it would be appropriate to make appointments?"
Calas was blunt.
"Madame Mayor," she said, "I believe there would have to be give and take in making the appointments and I see no give and take. And I am not going to give and always be on the give side. Sorry."
Calas's ally DeWitt also criticized the mayor.
"This item has been before us and we knew that the appointments should have taken place in June," she said, "and there should have been adequate time for the mayor to discuss these appointments. She had opportunities to discuss these appointments with all members of the council and therefore I am not prepared to go forward."
Last week, the council was discussing new requirements for landscaped medians on major streets when the dispute that led to the walkout erupted.
The issue at hand was the length of turning cuts in medians.
DeWitt asked that the matter be postponed because staff positions differed.
"You know, I don't even want to deal with this tonight. Let's put it over for another meeting. I move that we continue this to the next meeting," she said. Calas seconded the motion.
Muise said, "I'm in favor of continuing on with this because we have sent it back to staff several times . . . and I think we need to move off the dime."
DeWitt objected that she had not been briefed by the city's public works director, Harold Williams, as the mayor had, and that Williams' recommendations had changed significantly in the last few months.
Muise replied that, at her initiative, she had asked Williams to take her on a tour of the city to explain the effect of the proposed regulations. Calas and DeWitt said they also needed a tour and pressed to defer the matter.
After DeWitt's motion to postpone action lost 2-to-2, the councilwoman bitterly asked the mayor, "Why is it that you cannot give this council the same consideration other council members give you? We are asking for a two-week postponement. Now you want to play hardball.
"Are you going to go ahead and allow the community works director to spend one day with two council members so we can go forward on this? What is the problem? We have fooled with this for almost a year now. Is there any problem in giving us two weeks delay so we can come back and make an educated decision?"
Rebuke From Mayor
Muise, speaking like a teacher to a student late with homework, replied: