SAN GABRIEL — Having grudgingly paid the bill for one councilman's $2,100 car telephone, the City Council in this revenue-strapped city is considering $610 in expenses incurred by another councilman at a conference that critics say he never attended.
Councilman James Castaneda is "lying to the public," Councilman Sabino Cici charged in an interview, referring to Castaneda's claim that he attended the annual meeting of the Independent Cities Assn. in San Diego two weeks ago.
Castaneda says he was at the conference on the second of its three days but left rather than attend its golf and tennis tournaments. "If everybody was complaining about a phone bill, you can imagine what they would have said about that," said Castaneda, one of three councilmen who were elected in April on a slow-growth slate.
Paid to Attend
The city, which faces a budget deficit of $640,000 this year, paid for registration fees, meal tickets and two nights at the Rancho Bernardo Hotel so that Castaneda could attend the conference of the 44-member association of Southern California cities.
The council, which had previously decided to pay for the installation of a portable car telephone for Frank Blaszcak, another newly elected councilman, formally approved the payment Tuesday. Blaszcak, a public affairs director of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, said he needed the portable phone to conduct city business in his office because he is not allowed to use county telephones for that purpose.
Charges leveled at Tuesday's council meeting appeared to sweep away once and for all the spirit of amicability that had characterized meetings early in the new administration.
Mayor John Tapp, who was elected along with Castaneda and Blaszcak, has sided with Cici, the only holdover from the old council, in criticizing some of his colleagues' expenses. Councilman Ted Anderson, who was appointed in May to fill a vacancy, appears to have adopted a neutral stance, though he voted to approve payment for Blaszcak's telephone.
All but Cici are former members of the leadership of Citizens For Responsible Development (CFRD), the grass-roots slow-growth group that has dominated city politics in the last year.
As the brouhaha about expenses was being played out, CFRD Chairman Greg O'Sullivan, addressing the council, charged that there had been widespread failure to enforce the city's building code. He cited seven examples, including an apartment building on Broadway with insufficient setbacks and an apartment building on Las Tunas Drive that, according to city code specifications, should have provided 139 parking spots but has only 106.
In some cases, the code violations involved property owners who were former city officials or campaign contributors to council members, he said.
"I feel there's enough information here . . . to call for an investigation of conflicts of interest by past employees," O'Sullivan said. He added that "it seems like there's a little bit of corruptness going on."
Tapp, warning O'Sullivan against "escalating this into some giant thing," called upon City Administrator Robert Clute to look into the charges and report back to the council.
Castaneda responded testily to members of the audience who questioned his veracity and charged that he had been seen in San Gabriel on July 8, when he claimed to have been at the conference.
Neither Tapp, who also attended the conference, nor the organization that ran it could confirm Castaneda's presence. Tapp said he could not remember seeing his colleague there. A spokeswoman for the organization said Castaneda had not picked up his credentials. "But there are many who regularly attend the seminars but don't check in with us," she said.
She added that in skipping conference events July 9, Castaneda had missed a seminar on solid waste, a luncheon address by California Sen. Pete Wilson and a caucus of the delegates, as well as a tennis tournament. The golf tournament was part of a get-together July 7, she added.