WHITTIER — The Redevelopment Agency has delayed a decision on awarding a $55,000 contract to a fledgling consulting firm owned by longtime civic leader Dave Cannon.
The delay came after some members objected that they were being asked to make the decision before they could determine if Cannon's services were necessary.
City Manager Thomas G. Mauk last week recommended approval of the contract with D.T. Cannon Associates to negotiate a deal to develop the block across the street from the Whittier Hilton, which the agency has unsuccessfully tried to do for the last two years. Mauk said he believes Cannon's local contacts could help cement such a deal.
In June, the council rejected the only development offer that had been submitted for the block in the last year, saying the project required a subsidy the city couldn't afford and didn't include the desired mix of office and retail space. Since then, however, the city has received two mixed-use proposals, neither of which have been presented to the agency.
The contract with Cannon was blocked when some members of the Redevelopment Agency suggested that the new proposals might make the contract unneccessary.
"We directed staff to bring in some proposals," Mayor Pro Tem Sabina Schwab said at the meeting. "I don't feel we have fulfilled our part of it in not having them come before us."
Councilman Myron Claxton said in an interview that Cannon's services might be needed even if the agency were to approve one of the proposals.
"I think he would be an asset to the city in developing the block. I'm all for it," Claxton said.
Under the proposed contract, the city would pay Cannon $30,500. If Cannon came up with an agreement in six months, he would be paid the remaining $24,500 by the eventual developer.
Cannon started working as a marketing consultant about two years ago, but except for his work on the chamber committee, he has no experience in working with developers. Repeated phone calls to Cannon for comment were not returned.
Some Redevelopment Agency members also expressed concern about their ability to objectively assess the performance of an acknowledged friend. The City Council also serves as the Redevelopment Agency.
Although, according to Mauk, hiring Cannon would not be a legal conflict of interest because he has never been employed by the city, Schwab pointed out that dealing with Cannon might place agency members in an uncomfortable position.
Regarded as Friend
"Dave is a good friend, he's a member of the chamber (of commerce)," Schwab said. "It would be difficult to say, 'You're not doing a good job' when he's such a good friend to all of us."
Cannon, a retired executive of Eastman Kodak, has served as president of the Whittier Chamber of Commerce and chaired a volunteer chamber committee that Mauk said was instrumental in bringing the Hilton to town. Cannon also served two terms, one as chairman, on the city Personnel Board, which reviews employee grievances and advises the City Council on labor relations. He is on the board of Quaker Federal Savings and Loan and last year served as a liaison to the business community for Whittier College.
"The fact of the matter is that if we want to concentrate on the block then we need some additional resources or manpower assistance," Mauk said in an interview. "(Cannon) is a guy who can get things done, and does."
What is now a mismatched collection of businesses across the street from the elegant Hilton is considered a redevelopment priority for the city.
At the meeting, Councilman Victor Lopez praised Cannon's work at the chamber, adding, "He knows the ropes."
But Lopez also said that he had seen a proposal submitted by the Vanderbilt Group of Irvine, one of the two new development proposals, and was impressed.
That prompted a protest from Schwab, who said: "You're drawing your conclusions based on sub-information we don't have," referring to the fact that other members had not had a chance to see the plan.
In a subsequent interview, Lopez said he thought that the Redevelopment Agency needed to learn more about the development proposals before making a decision on the contract with Cannon.
Asked for Help
Mauk said the Vanderbilt proposal for a 120,000-square-foot development including office and retail space looked promising. But, he said, Vanderbilt has asked for help from the city in securing financing and tenants--something that Cannon could facilitate.
Vanderbilt is headed by former Whittier resident John Noble.
But Mauk in an interview acknowledged the objections voiced at the meeting. "I think I did miss a beat when I asked the council to approve the agreement with Cannon before they heard from Vanderbilt."
At the meeting, Mauk called the proposed contract with Cannon "an experimental approach . . . for the first and most important project of this agency. It would appear that Cannon can put a deal together."
Mayor Gene Chandler questioned whether requiring a developer to pay $24,500 of Cannon's contract would hinder the project. "It would be $24,500 that wouldn't be there if Cannon wasn't involved," Chandler said.
If the contract were approved, Cannon would be free to solicit other proposals for the project as well as work with Vanderbilt or the Hassen Development Co. of West Covina, the other developer, to submit a proposal.