The license plate on personal injury attorney John A. Howard's car reads SUEM 4 U. But some folks around Burbank think the plate should read I GETM.
Howard, 51, is the husband of Burbank council member Mary Lou Howard, the most colorful politician in the city. Whereas Mary Lou Howard is known for her adeptness at handshaking and baby kissing, John Howard--who is called "Jack"--has a reputation more for chest poking and name-calling.
For the past several years, some present and former city officials say, Howard has verbally attacked anyone who disagrees with his politics. He has a quick temper and relishes bullying and intimidating at meetings and social events, his critics charge.
"He has not threatened me, but I have seen him in that heat of anger with a colleague of mine, and I would not like to be on the other side of that boiling teapot if it whistled," Mayor Michael R. Hastings said.
But admirers, including his wife, say Jack Howard is misunderstood.
They say Howard, a lifelong Burbank resident, is passionately committed to maintaining a good quality of life in the city and reacts forcefully when he thinks that that is being threatened.
"Jack has very strong opinions on what direction he thinks this city should be going," Mary Lou Howard said. "He says things that people don't like to hear. He says things that I don't like to hear.
'Most of the Time He's Right'
"But you know what? Most of the time he's right. He has a strong and deep commitment for the city and sometimes feels other people don't have the same commitment."
Howard and his actions may be hotly debated around City Hall, but the controversy has not affected city business, officials say. And, although Mary Lou Howard's colleagues say his outspokenness has embarrassed her, she denies it.
Ironically, some of Howard's main targets are local politicians and officials his wife supports or for whom he campaigned in recent elections.
He supported Hastings, for instance, in the 1985 municipal election, but now calls the mayor a "charlatan."
Howard says the mayor has ignored the wishes of residents for less development.
Jack Howard explains his demeanor this way: "I don't pussyfoot around issues. I call it the way it is. It makes some people uncomfortable."
Most recently, Howard embarked on what some city officials see as a vendetta against Burbank City Manager Robert (Bud) Ovrom, one of Mary Lou Howard's favorites among city officials. She was the council member most instrumental in bringing Ovrom to Burbank 2 1/2 years ago from Downey and repeatedly mentions how highly she regards him.
Jack Howard claims that Ovrom is trying to bend the rules in obtaining a permit to build a house in Burbank's hillside area.
He said Ovrom applied for a conditional-use permit for the two-story home, but then failed to apply for a separate variance. The additional application would have required notifying residents within 1,000 feet of the property about several setbacks he was seeking for his yards, front wall and swimming pool.
"He's trying to get in the back door, instead of the front door, like everyone else," Howard said.
Howard has appealed last year's vote by the city Planning Board approving Ovrom's plan, and the appeal is scheduled before the City Council on Jan. 26. Mary Lou Howard said she will not participate in the hearing.
"Jack makes it very clear he doesn't like me," Ovrom said of Howard. "There's not much I can do about that."
Ovrom said the two have been at odds ever since a 1986 Fourth of July party at the home of Burbank Police Chief Glen Bell. He said Howard lashed out at him during a discussion about some property Howard owns.
"His property had been subdivided into two separate lots, and I just made a comment . . . his property would be better as one lot instead of two," Ovrom said. "He became visibly upset. I guess he felt I would use my city powers to keep him from building two homes on that lot. I tried to give him every assurance that I would not do anything. But I guess I stepped on his freaky button."
Howard said he does not remember confronting Ovrom at the party, but acknowledged disagreeing with Ovrom's agenda for Burbank.
"I once heard someone on the city's public service department board say that Bud Ovrom is more slippery than snot on a doorknob, and I concur with that opinion," Howard said.
Howard said he also is unhappy with several council members, most notably Hastings, because they have not kept their promise to curtail development in Burbank and instead have voted for several major developments.
"The council is turning this bedroom community into another Los Angeles," Howard said. "I don't think the residents are in favor of that. And I'm not in favor with changing the character of Burbank."
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