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Secret Vote to Name Pasadena Director Assailed by Losers

December 11, 1986|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — A secret vote in which William Cathey was appointed to the Board of City Directors has been condemned by one board member and several of the losing candidates.

The vote, taken Monday on unsigned ballots that were placed in a large envelope and then tallied by the city clerk, allowed board members to avoid revealing which of six candidates they supported to replace William Bogaard, who resigned last month.

Critics of the procedure said they thought the secret vote violated the Brown Act, which requires city governments to conduct their business in public.

Although most of the board members stood by the voting procedure, Director Jeff Hughston said that he regretted casting his vote in secret.

'Should Have Known Better'

"I should have known better and objected," Hughston said. "This is the public's business and it should be done in public view."

When contacted Tuesday, the state attorney general's office refused to comment on the specific case.

Terry Francke, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., said he thought the Pasadena vote was a clear violation of the Brown Act.

"If you don't get how the members voted, the attorney general has held that is alien to the Brown Act," Francke said, referring to a 1985 opinion saying that secret votes are illegal.

"The Brown Act is intolerant of secrecy at any stage of proceedings which are required to be public. . . . Action taken by secret ballot can hardly be regarded as action 'openly taken,' " the opinion states.

Violations of the Brown Act are misdemeanors, with maximum penalties of six months in jail or $500 in fines.

Spirit of Law Broken

Even if the board did not violate the letter of the law, it violated its spirit, said Dorothy Poole, one of three candidates who strongly opposed the secret vote.

"This just adds to the perception that they don't want to be public," she said. "This should have been an open process from beginning to end."

Candidate Nina Cash said the vote unnecessarily damaged the board's reputation.

"I think the board has done themselves a lot of harm. They've suffered from an image problem for a long time and this doesn't help the board one bit," Cash said.

"People should know how their directors stand on these things," said another candidate, Maria Low.

Mayor John Crowley defended the secret vote, saying that it was not done to deceive the public. He said the board acted on the advice of City Atty. Victor Kaleta, who told members that the vote was legal.

'Personal Choice'

"The motive was not to avoid disclosure of who voted for who," said Crowley. "With an individual casting a vote without being affected by the others, the vote clearly would be a more personal choice."

Director Jo Heckman, who proposed the secret vote, also defended the procedure, saying it allowed the board to avoid alienating any of the losers.

"Why should they (the candidates) know whether I voted for them or not?" she said.

Kaleta said he has no intention of rethinking his position on the legality of the vote. He said that the attorney general's opinion is no more binding under law than his own.

"This is an issue that is behind the city now," he said.

'What's Done is Done'

Heckman added, "What's done is done."

Director Loretta Thompson-Glickman said one reason she agreed to the secret vote was to avoid the delay and confusion that occurred when Bogaard was appointed to the board in 1978 to replace Charles McKinney.

McKinney resigned in March of that year but the seat remained vacant until July, in part because the board could not agree on a replacement. Eventually, voters in the district were polled and selected Bogaard.

This time around, Thompson-Glickman said, the board wanted to move quickly. The secret vote would allow a board member to vote without fearing political repercussions, she said.

On the first ballot Monday, three board members voted for Cathey and three for former Board of Education President Kathryn Nack. None of the four other candidates received any votes.

Within minutes, the board took a second vote. This time, Cathey got four votes and Nack two. The board then took another vote, unanimously appointing Cathey.

Heckman, Thompson-Glickman and Director Bill Thomson have refused to reveal how they voted in the secret ballots.

Crowley said he voted for Nack on the first two ballots. Hughston and Director Rick Cole said they voted for Cathey on the first two ballots.

'Vote Would Have Been Same'

"I think the vote would have been the same if we had voted in public," Cole said. But, he added, "perhaps this was not the best way to do it."

Cathey, who was not present during the voting, said he was surprised at the procedure but was happy that he was picked.

"I'm really pleased I was appointed," he said. "This is my first venture into any elected thing, even though I wasn't elected."

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