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Redondo Beach fat cat knows who's in charge at City Hall

February 05, 1987|KAREN ROEBUCK

At Redondo Beach City Hall, Roscoe is the only one who's permitted to speak out of order at council meetings, jump on desks and walk unannounced into any room or conference.

"He's the most popular male in City Hall," secretary Thelma Guerrea said of the gray and white, long-haired cat that roams city offices.

And most city employees agree that Roscoe--not the city manager--runs the place.

"Roscoe is really in charge of City Hall," said Ray Griest, assistant city manager. "Some people don't know it, but Roscoe does--that's all that matters."

And the mellow mongrel does get his way most of the time.

He walks across desk tops, and sometimes decides that the middle of someone's paper work would be a prime spot for a nap.

When that happens, Wanda Marley, a senior clerk in the purchasing office, said, "I work around him (or) take a Roscoe break." She has learned to keep a box close by that she sets at the edge of her desk for Roscoe to lie in.

"He just seems to go with the job," she said.

Roscoe seems to go wherever he pleases.

He strolls through the council chambers during meetings, frequently meowing his opinions. People in the audience and city officials smile and offer a hand to the wandering cat as he passes. He ignores most, but will occasionally oblige and allow a quick pat.

"He's kind of a finicky cat," explained Griest, who is apparently one of Roscoe's favorites. At a recent council meeting, as city officials and residents discussed various commercial developments, Griest stroked a contented Roscoe curled up on his lap.

Although Roscoe was apparently uninterested in development, he seemed especially pleased with a routine proclamation Mayor Barbara J. Doerr presented that night. During the presentation, he wrapped himself around the legs of the mayor and the recipient.

On weekdays, he's spoiled by employees at City Hall where he dines, lounges and gets brushed. On weekends and holidays, he lets the Police Department pamper him.

But Roscoe does not count the police German shepherds among his friends. When one comes onto his turf at City Hall, Roscoe will keep an eye on it, or at least on its feet, from beneath a counter, said Ele Steger, administrative coordinator.

One time, Roscoe hid beneath a desk from a particularly playful dog. Seeing that the cat was not amused, the police officer ordered his well-trained canine to stay seated. Roscoe then ran out from under the desk, slapped the dog with his paw and ran off down the hall.

But despite all the time Roscoe spends in City Hall--he's almost always the first one to arrive at 8 a.m.--no one seems to know much about his past or his outside life. Many suspect he has a night-time residence nearby. The one thing he can't do--or at least isn't supposed to do--is spend the night in City Hall.

No one seems to know how old he is, either. He started visiting City Hall about seven or eight years ago when an employee in the licensing department began leaving food--outside the door at first--for him, said Armando Herrera, revenue supervisor.

Realizing he had a good thing, he eventually brought two feline buddies with him. Some say that led former City Manager Dave Dolter to ban cats from City Hall, although most people ignored his edict and let the cats inside. (One cat reportedly died and no one seems to know what happened to the third.)

Others say the supposed cat eviction was Roscoe's punishment for using Dolter's chair when he should have used a litter box. "Every so often he disgraces himself, and then he's not too well loved," Griest said.

Nevertheless, he has a talent for winning people's hearts. "Roscoe's a cutie," Griest said. "I don't generally like cats, but Roscoe's special."

Most city employees seem to agree. Roscoe has food and water dishes next to desks, under chairs and behind doors in several offices and greetings are called out to him as he passes desks and doorways.

There are, however, one or two exceptions. The cat, it is said, occasionally has to deal with scare tactics and dodge rubber bands, some of which are shot by Bill Lewis, acting accounting manager.

Lewis contends that he just shoots "in the general direction" of Roscoe. "He usually just gives me a dirty look and tells me to get out of his life," Lewis said.

"I'm not a feline lover," he added. "It's nothing personal against Roscoe. . . . He's never taken a punch at me."

Others, however, have taken measures to protect the little guy. A sign--a shoe above a cat with a slash through it--warns visitors in the licensing department not to step on Roscoe.

"He's real good public relations for the licensing department," Steger said. The department is not especially popular since it is responsible for collecting parking fines.

Visitors usually aren't too happy, Steger said, but when "Roscoe comes out from under the counter, it's a completely different person." People pet him and their attitudes quickly improve, she said.

"I think Roscoe's the cheapest form of therapy anyone could have," agreed Judy Durham, training and safety administrator. "If someone's depressed, he'll go to them and jump in their lap. He's really tuned into people's feelings."

Skeptics say he's more in tune with his food dish. "Roscoe has the people at City Hall trained," Lewis said. "The only way he'll deal with you is if you have food."

Roscoe has plenty of food in the offices where he regularly stops and doesn't have to worry about going hungry. "Roscoe's friends always pass an envelope when he needs something," Marley said. And a local veterinarian treats him for free.

No one disputes that the cat has a good deal.

"Roscoe thinks he runs City Hall," said City Clerk John Oliver. "He's a reincarnated politician from about 80 years ago."

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