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City-Chamber Rift Widens With Cutoff of $12,000 Subsidy

August 20, 1987|RITA PYRILLIS | Times Staff Writer

HAWAIIAN GARDENS — The City Council and Chamber of Commerce have argued since Maggie Vineyard was elected chamber president in 1984, and the council's decision this month to eliminate the chamber's stipend has further stressed that already tense relationship.

Vineyard calls the council's decision a "personal vendetta," while Mayor Rosalie Sher and Vice Mayor Kathleen Navejas say that Vineyard, instead of serving the chamber members, is using her position as a political stepping stone.

"I would be all for funding the chamber if Maggie wasn't president," Navejas said in an interview.

Vineyard maintains that she is doing a great job, saying she would resign if she thought it would be best for the chamber.

"I can do more accidentally than (the council) can on purpose," Vineyard said. "I only enhance the chamber, not hurt it. It's a shame that they would punish the whole business community because of me."

Chamber members have felt the tension, according to Ray Kolahi, a chamber board member and manager of First Credit Bank. "People come in and ask me why all this stupidity? It just shouldn't be. They feel like everyone is fighting."

The animosity resulted earlier this month in the council's action to cut the chamber's annual $12,000 stipend--about half the chamber's budget. The city also had the chamber vacate a rent-free office in City Hall.

Vineyard served on the City Council from 1980 to 1984 and ran as a Republican state Senate candidate in 1984. Her showy personality prompted one chamber board member to say: "Maggie has a little bit of Joan Rivers in her."

Vineyard and her husband, Councilman Richard Vineyard, have owned Maggie's Mufflers, a Norwalk Boulevard muffler shop, since 1977. Maggie Vineyard often attends council meetings and has on occasion heckled the council, including her husband, from the audience. Some council-meeting observers call her behavior disruptive.

At a recent council meeting, to the surprise of the council and the audience, a scantily-clad hula dancer sent by Vineyard as an anniversary gift for her husband entertained the stunned council.

It's Either Love or Hate

"You either love her or you hate her," Councilman Donald Schultze said in a recent interview. Schultze cast the deciding vote in the 3-2 decision that eliminated the chamber's funding. Richard Vineyard and Venn Ferguson voted against the cut.

Several chamber board members credit Vineyard with its revitalization.

Chamber membership--which costs $75 annually--doubled from 47 to 97 members the first year she was president. Vineyard is quick to attribute that accomplishment to her hiring a chamber manager with the $12,000 stipend in 1984. Membership has since dropped to 79, which she blames on redevelopment projects having displaced some small businesses. Chamber board member Eugene Siegel concedes that Vineyard is sometimes abrasive but says it is her audacity that makes her a successful chamber president.

Maggie Is a Motivator

"No one can get people going the way Maggie does," said Siegel, an attorney. "Maggie Vineyard is the Chamber of Commerce. She is the only one willing to work this hard to get the chamber going and help the businessmen."

But some City Council members complain that Vineyard has snubbed the council by leaving them out of chamber activities.

While some state, county and city officials attended a recent grocery store grand opening, the only council member there was Councilman Vineyard, something Maggie Vineyard says proves that the council does not support the business community.

But Navejas and Sher said they were not "formally invited."

"This is a slap in the face of our mayor," Navejas said during a recent council meeting. To chamber members, the feud is nothing new, and it has caused some members to stop attending chamber activities and others to not renew memberships.

"Things have been like this for a while," said Paul Tellez, a Norwalk Boulevard barber. "It's crazy. I just pay my dues and stay out of it."

Became a Social Club

Bob McDonald, who recently sold his carpet cleaning business in Hawaiian Gardens, said he dropped out of the chamber when Vineyard took over as president.

"It got to be more of a social club than anything else," McDonald said. "If we want to be social we can join the Elks lodge. The businessmen need more than that."

Navejas, who said she would like to see the city start its own business association, agrees.

Vineyard "has the best interests of the city at heart? That's baloney," Navejas said. "Welcome to the Maggie Vineyard Show."

Navejas believes Vineyard views the chamber as a political steppingstone that could ensure her husband's reelection or assist her own return to the council or move to higher office.

To others, the idea is ridiculous.

"This is a small town and a small chamber," Siegel said. "What would she have to gain?"

Noncomittal About Running

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