HAWAIIAN GARDENS — Former City Councilman Richard Vineyard lost his public office almost a month ago, but his longstanding--and often bitter--political rivalry with Mayor Kathleen Navejas shows no sign of diminishing.
The latest feud erupted last week over a council decision to grant $20,000 to the financially ailing Hawaiian Gardens Social Services Agency, a nonprofit, privately operated organization that runs emergency food and cheese distribution programs in the city. The agency is headed by Navejas' husband, Carlos.
Vineyard charges that the council made the grant without requiring a detailed financial report from the agency.
The agency sought financial support from the city after the popular Cooper Fellowship Bingo Parlor unexpectedly closed in January. The nonprofit fellowship had been donating $10,000 a month, making it the agency's largest contributor.
At the last council meeting, Carlos Navejas successfully argued that city intervention was needed to keep the 2-year-old agency operating until it could find another source of income to replace the large Cooper Fellowship donation.
"We need this money. It's important to keep this program running," Navejas said before the 4-1 vote in favor of the grant. He said that the money would be used over the next two months to pay utilities, buy supplies from the Los Angeles Food Bank and pay salaries owed to the agency's full-time staff.
The social service agency feeds about 500 families with its food distribution program. It also provides immigration, health and welfare information to low-income and non-English-speaking residents.
In an interview this week, Vineyard, angered over the council vote, called the grant approval "a farce." He said he believes that council members did not exercise fiscal responsibility in granting the money because Carlos Navejas has yet to provide the city with a financial report that identifies all donors and all of the agency's expenditures since it opened in June, 1986.
"They were duped. I just cannot believe they would vote for that without seeing a financial statement from the social services agency," said Vineyard, who added that an audit should be required if the financial statement continues to be withheld.
But Carlos Navejas challenged Vineyard's claim that the agency's financial records have been withheld from the public. He said the agency has disclosed financial details in a variety of federal grant applications. An updated financial report is also being prepared.
The federal government, through the United Way, recently issued an $11,000 check to the agency, he said. The agency is also supported by local churches and other groups that donate small amounts of money and clothing, according to an Internal Revenue Service document.
In February, while still a councilman, Vineyard began asking for copies of the agency's financial records. At the time, he said he needed the records to study whether the city should begin supporting the agency.
The financial questions escalated into a heated campaign issue that ended April 12 when Vineyard narrowly lost his City Council seat, due in part to the social service issue, a favored program in the city.
But Vineyard has refused to let the issue die. Vineyard, who had largely represented business interests in the 1-square-mile city, accuses the Navejas family of misusing agency money for trips and personal gain, which he believes an audit would uncover. However, Vineyard said he cannot substantiate his claims.
Both Navejases question Vineyard's motive in demanding to inspect the agency's financial records. They point out that in the past, Vineyard has often voted against efforts to aid the agency.
In 1986, for example, Vineyard cast the sole vote against granting the agency $20,000 to cover start-up expenses. He also abstained from a vote to approve the agency's original board of directors.
The mayor, who helped found the agency before she was elected to the City Council in 1986, claims that Vineyard is attempting to destroy the organization through "false accusations."
"If there was something wrong with the agency, why hasn't Richard asked the district attorney to investigate?" Navejas asked. "He knows they would find nothing wrong."
Carlos Navejas said he believes that rumors about the alleged misuse of agency funds were initiated by Vineyard. At last week's council meeting, Navejas told the members, "If you have people writing negative letters about the agency, it is extremely difficult to get money."
The rivalry between the two political families dates back to 1980, when Vineyard's wife ran for the council and unseated Carlos Navejas. The rivalry intensified three years later when the Navejases mounted a citywide initiative that defeated Margaret Vineyard's attempt to establish a poker casino in the city.