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Azusa Council Discord Leaves Unity Tattered

July 07, 1988|CRAIG QUINTANA | Times Staff Writer

AZUSA — All Mayor Eugene F. Moses wanted in the April election was a City Council he could work with. Three months after the election, in which two of his supporters were elected, he is still looking for allies.

At Tuesday's council meeting, unity--the binding theme of the election--rapidly unraveled. Councilmen Harry L. Stemrich and Tony D. Naranjo, both former running mates of Moses, soundly rebuked him for making two motions. Both councilmen accused the mayor of betraying campaign pledges, flip-flopping and pandering to community groups. Moses denied the accusations.

First, the mayor moved that former Planning Commissioner Conrad Bituin be reinstated. Bituin was removed from office in May after his unsuccessful bid for the seats filled by Stemrich and Naranjo.

Suit Suggested

The mayor also proposed that the city start legal action against the Azusa Rock Co. quarry, in Fish Canyon above the city. Before the council meeting, Moses' suggestion had been detailed in a local newspaper. Referring at the meeting to the newspaper article, Stemrich and Naranjo said the mayor had ignored advice from the city attorney not to comment on the matter.

The Planning Commission began hearings in April on revoking the quarry's operating permit and will eventually make a recommendation to the City Council, which will have the final decision.

Moses was unable to get the required second to put his motions before the council for action.

"Yes, I feel betrayed, you can call it that," Stemrich said of the mayor's actions. "He let the council down for his own, personal (political) gain."

Mayor's Defense

For his part, Moses said: "Unity at what price? That's the point. My duty is first to the people of Azusa."

Bituin's ouster, which had been initiated by Stemrich and supported by Moses, Naranjo and Councilwoman Jennie Avila, drew widespread criticism in the community and for a while fueled calls for a recall of the newly elected councilmen.

Moses, saying he could not justify his original vote, apologized to Bituin and asked the council to reinstate the former planning director.

"I don't know what reason I voted him out for," he said. "I ask the council to consider putting him back on."

Naranjo and Stemrich said that during the campaign, the mayor asked them to engineer Bituin's removal.

Naranjo said he was shocked that Moses would consider putting Bituin back on the commission.

Outrage Voiced

"You're the one who wanted him out," Stemrich said in agitation. "You asked me to take that man off the commission. For two months I took the heat, and then you backed out."

Stemrich and Naranjo said Moses made reshaping the commission a priority during the campaign.

"He wanted to rearrange the entire Planning Commission," Stemrich said. "Me, because I was new and the goat, said I'd do it."

Moses denied that it was his idea.

"If I wanted to remove him, I would have put it on the (City Council) agenda," he said.

Moses said he was pressured into voting to remove Bituin, but reversed his position after community members asked him to justify his action.

"It was going to be unity or what I thought is right," Moses said of his original vote. "I voted for unity, and it hasn't worked out."

Stemrich and Naranjo also attacked Moses for the proposed legal action against Azusa Rock, which they termed a political move to win support from citizen groups opposed to the quarry.

They rebuked Moses for his comments in a local newspaper article. Moses was quoted as saying that taking the issue to court was the best way to resolve it.

Citing the city attorney's previous advice not to talk about the matter, Stemrich asked the mayor what he was trying to do. "You were told, the same as us, not to talk about it."

Moses said he did not recall being told to keep quiet. Other council members, however, said the city attorney advised them on numerous occasions not to voice opinions about the quarry issue. Moses said he was entitled to express his opinion that the courts should decide the matter.

Naranjo asked City Atty. Peter M. Thorson to give an opinion on Moses' comments, which he said could expose the city to a possible lawsuit if the quarry were closed.

Thorson said Moses' comments probably will not harm the city, but confirmed that he advised council members to refrain from talking about the matter.

The effect of Tuesday's heated disagreement may be far-reaching.

Councilman Bruce Latta, who appeared to be the odd man out after losing to Moses in his bid for mayor, said the damage done to the three-man majority of Moses, Naranjo and Stemrich is "going to be tough to patch up. There are some strong feelings there."

Council unity is up to Moses, Naranjo said.

"I think we can still unite and work together, but if he doesn't have it in his heart, than we can't," he said.

Despite the discord, Moses said he feels the council can work together.

"I'm hoping we can all get along, but still, I'm going to vote my conscience, and that's between me and God," he said. "I'm going to look at things optimistically and hope for the best."

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