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Discord in Covina Drives Off Manager, Applicants

December 21, 1986|DENISE-MARIE SANTIAGO | Times Staff Writer

COVINA — This city is having a difficult time finding a successor to City Manager Richard Miller for the same reason he is leaving after 10 years on the job.

"Nobody from around here would touch it (the job) because nobody wants to work with a split council," Councilman Henry Morgan said.

Miller said his inability to bring harmony to the council, whose members are usually divided on major issues and often belligerent toward one another during council meetings, is the major reason he is leaving.

"I just get frustrated," said Miller, who is screening applications and has agreed to remain as city manager until a successor is chosen. Constant haranguing by council members has hurt staff morale and slowed progress in Covina, Miller said.

Lack of Harmony

"We weren't accomplishing the things I want to accomplish. I haven't been able to create a harmonious atmosphere, which I feel is my responsibility," he said, adding that someone else may be able to unify the council.

Despite a statewide search, only 25 people have applied for the job so far. City officials expected to receive at least 120 resumes by the Dec. 31 deadline for applications.

None of the applicants are from the local area and potential candidates in the San Gabriel Valley that Miller has approached have expressed misgivings about applying for the job because of the council's reputation for infighting, he said.

"I started with a 5-0 vote and went down to 3-2," Miller said of lagging support from the five council members. "Usually you go down. But with someone starting with a 3-2, that's going to be hard."

Miller complained that his vision for the city has been blocked by council members, each of whom, he says, has a separate agenda.

The council has stymied his efforts to build a new City Hall, redevelop the downtown area and increase tax revenue through an auto row project that officials believe would have generated about $10 million for the city over a 24-year period, Miller said.

"I've never expected the council to play dead when the city staff makes a recommendation," Miller said, but "it certainly would be more harmonious if we all had the same goals or the same agendas."

Decisions Are Split

Council members concede that they are not easy to get along with and that the usual 3-2 split on major issues makes it difficult to reach decisions.

"I don't think the factions are going to agree on anything," Councilman Charles G. Colvert said. "We're too far apart."

Generally, Colvert and Morgan form one faction, while Councilmen Jerry Edgar and Robert Low are on the other side. Mayor Larry Straight, who was elected to the chairmanship post by his fellow councilmen, is often left to cast the deciding vote. "Sometimes it's a 3-2 one way or a 3-2 another way, depending on how I vote," Straight said.

Edgar said he does not think council members should be team players. "I personally am not on this council for gratification of my ego. We're not here to perpetuate the government. I hope that we never get to the point that we agree on everything. That means there's no thinking."

Leadership Questioned

Edgar and Low said they believe the council has failed to provide leadership and direction to the city staff. "The council either doesn't want to or doesn't know how," Edgar said.

"Baloney," Colvert retorted. "I don't believe that at all. (Edgar and Low) believe that because they only have two votes. Three votes is the name of the game."

Morgan concurs.

"As long as we have three votes, we can run the city in a pretty good fashion," he said. "I would be concerned if the two votes would become a majority. . . . If they had a majority, they would always hold out until their little projects were covered."

Straight, the newest member of the board, was elected in 1984. He said that the split between the council members "deals with personalities and the feelings they have for each other. They tend to take so many things personally and throw insults at each other, and that doesn't get anyone anywhere."

Efforts Are Futile

Straight said he is resigned to the in-fighting and has retreated from efforts to unify the council.

In conducting council meetings, Straight said he has tried to give each member a chance "to talk without being yelled at or shouted at."

"I don't think I've accomplished much," he said, adding, "It's a position I'll never be in again. It's not worth it to me. I don't know that the citizens do anything but laugh at us. The people I know get a kick out of it."

Other councilmen say that the differences involve issues, not personalities.

"I don't think there are any personal feelings in the matter," Colvert said. "I think it's different views on how to best serve the city."

Low said the problem is that the council "has no direction. I think council should attempt to collectively discuss issues and solve problems and I don't think that's happening."

Leaving With Regrets

Caught in the middle is Miller, who said he is leaving with regrets about projects he has been unable to bring to fruition.

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