Politics doesn't usually raise much dust in Rolling Hills Estates, but things are different this year. The field of six City Council candidates includes three men whose close family and business relationships are being challenged by the others and a planning commissioner who jumped into the race as a write-in candidate.
On Tuesday, voters will choose three council members, who serve four-year terms without salary.
On one side of the acrimonious campaign are: Dan E. Butcher, a 70-year-old contractor; his son-in-law, financial consultant Carl Woodrow Robertson II, 43, and Councilman Peter M. Weber, 58. On the other side are: Mayor Hugh H. Muller, 59, Councilman Warren A. Schwarzmann, 65, and Planning Commissioner William H. Ailor III, 42.
Ailor said the catalyst of his late entry into race was his belief that the two in-laws and Weber are too closely allied to be independent voices on the council. The Butcher and Robertson families live in the same house.
Ailor is running on a slate with Muller and Schwarzmann, sharing the same campaign committee and making the same charges. They have been saying that Weber and Robertson have a business relationship, which has prompted Weber to write a letter to their campaign threatening to call for a county district attorney's investigation if the assertion is not dropped.
Business Relationship Ended
Weber and Robertson were partners in an oil and gas venture in Kansas last year, but both say their business relationship has ended. Weber has been on the council for more than 13 years. He backed Butcher when the contractor ran unsuccessfully for the council two years ago and acknowledges that the three are friends. But all insist they are running separate campaigns and are independent people.
Muller and Schwarzmann have each held office for more than nine years, and Ailor has been a commissioner for five years, serving one year as chairman.
Robertson said it feels as if he, Butcher and Weber are running against the political Establishment, since their opponents have been endorsed by the two council members not up for reelection.
"The incumbents are worried about us," he said.
Weber said the issue over his ties with Butcher and Robertson is aimed specifically at getting him out of office and has been instigated by Councilman Jerome Belsky, with whom he has clashed. Belsky was Butcher's major target two years ago when the two ran and Belsky was reelected.
"It is just a vendetta," Weber said.
Replied Belsky: "As usual, he doesn't know what he is talking about."
Belsky said he has endorsed the incumbents and Ailor because of their abilities: "Schwarzmann and Muller have done an outstanding job on the council, and Ailor is an outstanding member of our Planning Commission."
Muller, Schwarzmann and Ailor argue that the council would be damaged by the election of three people who could not guarantee independent decisions because of their ties.
"Even if they were perfectly straightforward and independent in their thinking, it would be difficult to convince the citizens this were true," Schwarzmann said.
As it did two years ago when he ran, Butcher's ownership of 7 1/2 acres of open land in Rolling Hills Estates has been raised as an issue by his opponents. Over the years, his development proposals have been turned down by the city, and two years ago Butcher said he was going to sell the property. This year, he said it is for sale and he has no plans of his own for it.
City Sued Over Drainage
Butcher is suing the city, saying it is responsible for the drainage problems on the property which stem from work the city allowed to be done at the nearby Rolling Hills Country Club. He said he is not seeking monetary damages but wants to establish who should control the drainage.
Said Schwarzmann: "It is not good to have on the council people involved in real estate development and other activities involving control of property in the city."
"The idea that Dan (Butcher) and I are running together to control the city is baloney," said Robertson, who charged that Ailor came into the race out of loyalty to council members who appointed him to the commission.
Ailor acknowledged that Muller and Schwarzmann asked him to become a write-in candidate, but said his decision was based on his belief that the relationship between the opposing candidates makes "it virtually impossible for these three candidates to provide independent, unbiased approaches to issues of land use and development."
Weber insists that he played no role in Butcher and Robertson becoming candidates, and he said he believes he can overcome any damage that may have come from assertions about their ties: "I've been around a long time, people know I'm an independent man, I am not a part of any groups. My basic concern is common sense and fairness."