LONG BEACH — Shattering months of courtly campaigning for mayor, Councilwoman Jan Hall has accused Mayor Ernie Kell of cronyism in appointments to city boards and commissions.
Kell, while denying the allegation, returned fire by criticizing Hall's role as board president of the Southern California Rapid Transit District.
Hall opened the exchange in a letter sent to about 80,000 voters.
"We will never have a city we can point to with pride if commission appointments go to the highest bidder. The Kell way is alien to our code of ethics in Long Beach," Hall wrote.
She included a glossy insert that features a drawing of Kell framed against a wreath of dollar signs and the message: "It's time to tell Ernie Kell that Long Beach is not for sale."
Kell said he is "shocked and appalled" at the insinuation that he offers appointments only to advisers and wealthy contributors.
"Jan avoids talking about her own record of mismanagement and scandal as the head of the RTD and I've challenged her to point to a single hint of corruption in my many years of office," said Kell, a City Council member since 1975 and appointed mayor since 1984.
The RTD, the largest all-bus public transportation agency in the nation, has faced a barrage of criticism that has run the gamut of its operations. The allegations have ranged from an insurance claims scandal in which the agency may have been bilked of millions of dollars to a "phantom warehouse" which logged missing bus parts and fare box thefts.
Hall said she is working to correct problems in the RTD, both on the board and by testifying in Sacramento on legislation to reorganize the troubled agency. "The RTD has had problems," she acknowledged. "I've worked very hard in the last 1 1/2 years to solve those problems."
The Kell campaign trotted out five commissioners representing the redevelopment, harbor and planning boards--the three public bodies singled out by Hall in her attack--for a press conference in which they expressed their own outrage at Hall's mailer.
"Jan Hall's shocking attack on Mayor Kell and on our volunteer commissioners is a fabrication of her campaign and an embarrassment to the city," Planning Commission Chairwoman Nancy Latimer said at the press conference. "She has attacked the integrity of each one of us."
Until this week, Kell and Hall had avoided taking any major blasts at one another as they appeared at several forums leading up to the April 12 primary. They have been cool but polite to one another at weekly City Council meetings. By contrast, others among the nine candidates in the mayoral field, notably public relations executive Luanne Pryor, have blasted Kell and Hall without much visible effect.
Hall tried to entice Kell, Pryor and other potential candidates to sign a "Code of Campaign Ethics" last October that would have barred the "use of defamation, whispering campaigns, libel, slander or scurrilous attacks on any candidate." Hall denied that her latest mailer violates the code, saying the code was designed to stop last-minute "hit" pieces to which a candidate has no time to respond.
Kell refused to sign Hall's code at the time, saying it was a political ploy. In light of the recent Hall mailer, he said, "her brand of ethics is sure puzzling, to say the least."
In making her allegations, Hall quoted excerpts from stories that have appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram. One of the articles, published last September, said "Kell has extended his influence by using appointive powers to install supporters" on commissions. The story said that nine of 11 recent appointments had been donors or campaign advisers to Kell or his allies.
In an interview this week, Hall said the idea that only contributors will be appointed to city boards smacks of "favoritism which leads to corruption." She added, however, "this city has been incredibly clean" in its politics, and she did not cite any instances of corruption.
Under previous mayors Tom Clark and Eunice Sato, Hall said, the names of appointees were distributed among council members for review before being proposed. Under Kell, she said, council members are not aware of the candidates until they are formally proposed.
She said, however, that she has never voted against any proposed appointee except Planning Commissioner Jim Serles, a political nemesis who twice challenged Hall for her council seat.
Hall, as well as Kell, has also accepted campaign contributions from commission members. They have included harbor commissioners David L. Hauser, who gave $550, and Louise DuVall, who gave $100, according to Hall's campaign contribution statements through Feb. 27.
Kell has collected a bundle from appointees including every member of the Harbor Commission. The contributions include Hauser, $500; DuVall, $300; Joel Friedland, $3,050; C. Robert Langslet, $1,000; and George F. Talin Sr., $7,225 in cash and in-kind contributions through the last reporting period.