A former mayor charged Tuesday that the Beverly Hills/Cannes Sister City Committee has misused the city seal in a fund-raising campaign that solicits membership fees ranging from $100 to $2,500.
"I can't see how the mayor of this city can hand over to private people the right to demand fees to join a sister city committee," said George Slaff, a former mayor of Beverly Hills. "I don't accuse them of being crooks," he told the City Council. "They may have the greatest motives in the world, but to establish ranks of membership. . . . I must say this is outrageous."
Slaff, an attorney who served three terms on the council and was mayor in 1968-69 and 1975-76, said he was incensed that people apparently had to pay a minimum fee of $100 to join the 6-month-old committee. A committee representative later said membership is also open to those who cannot pay $100 if they volunteer their time.
Other categories of membership go as high as $2,500, which includes the right to be listed on the letterhead.
"They were in effect auctioning off membership on the committee," Slaff said in an interview later. "It's absolutely ridiculous." He also objected that many of the officers of the organization are not Beverly Hills residents.
Mayor Charlotte Spadaro, who won approval for the establishment of the committee as her first official act in April, urged the council to put off discussion of the issue until a representative of the committee could be present.
"You bring up a point that needs to be discussed," she told Slaff. "You raise questions that should be raised. But I don't think it's appropriate to discuss them tonight."
However, council members Donna Ellman and Max Salter made clear their objections to the actions of the sister city committee, which features the logos of Beverly Hills and Cannes on its letterhead. The committee's stationery gives the office of the mayor as its address.
"Suppose I'm a Mafioso, a bad guy, and I sent in $2,500," said Salter, who voted against the establishment of the committee in April. "My name would appear on the letterhead with the city of Beverly Hills logo."
Although Spadaro said the council approved the committee's use of the logo at one of its study sessions, Salter said, "I never had any discussion about this. This comes as a very unpleasant surprise to me."
Ellman, who was part of the 4-1 majority that established the sister city committee, said its fund-raising activities also came as news to her.
"You're putting the cart before the horse," she replied when Spadaro said the committee will make reports on its activities. "We should know what they're doing before they do it."
"It's unfortunate that things have to occur that surprise people," Spadaro said.
The committee was established April 15, shortly before Spadaro left to take part in the Cannes Film Festival as an official guest of the municipality on the Riviera.
The committee's latest fund-raising efforts are intended to bankroll the impending arrival of Anne-Marie Dupuy, mayor of Cannes, and a delegation of six others, on a return visit expected to run Nov. 18 through 25.
"We're budgeting at least $15,000 for the trip," said Arthur M. Kassel, president of the group.
Kassel, owner of the Beverly Hills Gun Club and husband of Tichi Wilkerson Kassel, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, where the fund-raising appeal was published, said about $9,000 has been raised already. The ad appeared as a letter to the entertainment community on committee letterhead bearing the Beverly Hills and Cannes city seals.
He said 10 to 12 people have signed up as sponsors for $2,500, a fee that includes travel discounts, tickets to a dinner honoring Dupuy and "VIP consideration on several upcoming projects and banquets."
Another four have volunteered to be patrons, at $500 each, which includes dinner with the visiting mayor.
The $100 membership offers "the opportunity to attend our many exciting projects and social functions, and to work on important committees."
Kassel said Wednesday he will tell the council next week that membership on the committee is also open to those who cannot pay $100.
"We'll find something for them to do to earn their $100 entry," he said. "There's something there for everybody. This is not a business. We want public participation."
He said the committee has been working with Sister Cities International, a worldwide group, to make sure it is going about its business properly. It plans to use funds it raises to promote Beverly Hills, stressing the connection between the film connections in Cannes and Beverly Hills.
The committee welcomes guidance from the City Council, he said, promising to submit a report on its first public meeting, which was held Sept. 29, when he addresses the council next week.