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Controversy, Expectations Mark Changing of Guard at City Halls : Stansbury Faces Discord Minutes After Term in Beverly Hills Begins

April 23, 1987|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

New Beverly Hills Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury spoke of "crossing one of history's great divides" and new Vice Mayor Donna Ellman called for an era of peace, but the ceremonies in which they were installed Tuesday night were marred by controversies similar to those that plagued the council last year.

Stansbury became the city's 33rd mayor, replacing Charlotte Spadaro, whose one-year term expired.

In a rambling 40-minute acceptance speech, complete with color slides showing scenic photographs of the city, he set a number of goals ranging from a cure for cancer to nuclear disarmament. On the local level, he called for a solution to the financial crisis in the school district, completion of the civic center and rebuilding of the city's cable television system.

But not long after the meeting started, it was clear that the council is still as divided as it was under Spadaro.

Stansbury praised construction of the civic center, a project that council members Spadaro and Robert Tanenbaum opposed. "Our new facilities were desperately needed and will carry us well into the 21st Century," he said. "To be sure, there has been a lot of flak about the civic center in the last year and a half, but I loved it and I am very proud of it."

Stansbury also talked about establishing an energy plant fueled by waste.

He asked that the city relieve its shortage of convenience stores by allowing them to be built in alleys in a small portion of the business district.

He said the city is considering a number of ways to provide financial help to the schools, including increases in some city fees and additional direct grants to the school district.

"I have one and only one ambition for Beverly Hills," he said, "and that is to be the best."

Traditionally, at the end of a mayor's term there is a round of speeches praising the work of the outgoing mayor. But this time, only Stansbury offered kind words to his colleague. Spadaro, whose one-year term was characterized by a divided council and marred by personal loss, spoke of her own accomplishments before handing over the gavel to Stansbury.

In an indirect assault on her opponents, Spadaro told the audience: "I believe in government not being elitist but open and responsive, and never patronizing or paternalistic."

'Landmark Legislation'

Stansbury said Spadaro's mother died during her term, and "she had a very difficult time as a result."

"Nevertheless, she still led the council in some landmark legislation for our city, the most recent of which is the non-smoking ordinance," he said. "She also got the council to approve the sister city plan with Cannes. . . . We have agreed and we have disagreed, but we have still maintained a mutual respect and friendship."

The first major confrontation in Stansbury's term surfaced minutes after he took office, when Tanenbaum sought to block the selection of Ellman, a three-term councilwoman, as the city's next vice mayor.

The Beverly Hills mayor is selected each year under a rotation system, with preference usually given to the member who has served the longest without occupying the position. The council member selected as vice mayor generally serves as mayor the following year.

Ellman served eight years on the council before 1982, including two terms as vice mayor and two as mayor. She returned to the council in 1984, but the city attorney ruled that her previous eight years' seniority did not apply, and she was considered a freshman. The city attorney also said her previous service as mayor did not apply in the rotation system.

Others Must Wait

That decision placed her in the rotation ahead of Tanenbaum, who may have to wait two years to become mayor, and Councilman Maxwell Salter, who may never become mayor during his four-year term.

Tanenbaum failed to gather enough council votes to block Ellman's appointment. Salter, saying it would be unfair to change the rules at the last minute, voted to support her appointment. Stansbury agreed. Spadaro sided with Tanenbaum, but when she saw that the votes were lacking to change the appointment, she voted for Ellman as a gesture of good will.

Nearly two hours passed before the meeting was officially adjourned and guests were invited to attend an after-installation party at the newly constructed fire station in the civic center.

Ellman was asked what she hoped the new year would bring. "Peace in our time," she said. "We have a lot of work to do. I hope that we can treat each other with mutual respect."

Overview of World

Before setting out his goals for the future of the city, Stansbury prefaced his remarks with what he called "an overview of what is happening today in our ever- shrinking world."

"Anniversaries (such as the annual selection of the mayor) trigger powerful expectations in the civilizational unconscious, as well as the personal unconscious," he said.

Stansbury continued for several minutes with a florid speech filled with allusions to great historical events and thoughts on the future of the world. One city official described him as "esoteric" and a "a typical dreamer."

"We find ourselves between dreams," Stansbury said in his acceptance speech. "From one point of view, the sky is falling. From another, a new order is emerging. The age of empire is over and the age of Spaceship Earth has begun."

Stansbury then went on to describe his hopes for the city and the world.

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