POMONA — Sometimes bombastic, at other times benevolent, City Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant is a man who defies both his critics and simple political pigeonholing.
At one instant, the crusty councilman appears to be the staunchest of fiscal conservatives, upbraiding his colleagues for taxing and spending policies he views as reckless and accusing City Hall bureaucrats of mismanagement and malingering.
Almost in the same breath, Bryant, 68, can seem to be a radical advocate of social reform. In the past he has accused the city's Police Department of racially motivated brutality. He is now calling for council members to be elected by district rather than at large, a move he believes will increase representation of minority groups.
The common link between these two views, Bryant supporters say, is the councilman's concern for those Pomona residents who lack wealth and influence.
"I think Clay Bryant is the people's city councilman," said Willie White, outreach director for the YMCA of Pomona Valley, who fell 71 votes short of becoming the city's first black councilman in 1983. "His point of view is more in line with those who are in need, the underprivileged and the minorities."
Over the past 20 years, Bryant has been elected to the City Council three times, voted off the council once and has waged four unsuccessful campaigns for mayor. All the while, he has pursued his unique brand of Populism with a pugnacious zeal that has made him less than popular with many at City Hall.
"If you define 'Populist' to mean that you're more interested in the people's business than your own or the city's, then yes, I'm a Populist," Bryant said. "I think the people who are footing the bill should be the first concern."
Most of Bryant's current and former council colleagues say they are impressed with his intellect and his intense devotion to public service, but many say they are often aggravated by his attitude.
"Clay's a classic confrontationalist," said Councilman E. J. (Jay) Gaulding. "If you let him, he'll run all over you."
Councilman Mark Nymeyer said he is not bothered by Bryant's bellicose style, although it did take him awhile to get used to it.
"Clay works best in a charged atmosphere," Nymeyer said. "He creates an advantage for himself by putting the rest of us on the defensive or (making us) surprised. I just decided I wasn't going to be surprised or put on the defensive any more."
Bryant has earned much of his reputation for contentiousness through his self-proclaimed role as ombudsman for residents who believe they have been mistreated by police officers or ignored by the city bureaucracy.
"He is to some degree a crusader for the little people . . . those whose voices are not usually heard," said former Mayor G. Stanton Selby, who faced Bryant in three mayoral races.
A retired engineer, Bryant spends several hours each week day in his City Hall office, fielding complaints from residents and bringing those matters to the attention of the appropriate city official. "You can hear him hollering all the way down to my office," said Gaulding, who works on the opposite side of City Hall from Bryant.
If pounding on a few desks does not resolve a resident's problem, Bryant is not afraid to take officials to task at council meetings, pointing a prosecutorial finger at the offending department head.
"Sometimes I think Clay assumes that the government official, the bureaucrat, whatever you want to call him, is guilty until he proves himself innocent of a citizen's allegation," Nymeyer said.
In his efforts to ferret out fiscal waste and mismanagement, Bryant is almost inquisitional in his scrutiny of staff reports and purchase orders. When he gleans what he believes to be a questionable expenditure from the fine print, he has been known to berate staff members for betraying the public's trust.
"I'm a looker and a fault-finder," Bryant acknowledges. "Looking at details is inherent in my training. Even if a word's not spelled right, I tell them. Unfortunately, these (staff members) are not trained in doing completed staff work and I'm the only one on the council who demands it."
Bryant notes that his rigorous examination of expenditures recently saved the city $17,000 on a bid to recarpet City Hall. He cites with pride the fact that he consistently opposed as impractical an unsuccessful proposal to build a 12-story World Trade Center project in downtown Pomona.
"I guess I'm acting as (the council members') conscience, really," Bryant said. "They would never approach those difficult subjects. They would do what they've always done, which is to allow the staff to control the agenda and that's how they got into this whole World Trade Center debacle."
Bryant's critics contend that his concern about details often goes beyond the legitimate purview of a councilman.