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San Gabriel Councilman Disconnects Phone Debate

August 04, 1988|MICHAEL MILSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN GABRIEL — Vice Mayor Frank Blaszcak's city-bought, $2,100 portable telephone has been disconnected.

At a heated City Council meeting Tuesday night, Blaszcak announced that he had turned in the phone Friday after deciding to leave his job as a public affairs director for the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts sometime in September.

Blaszcak had purchased the cellular phone at city expense in May, saying his agency prohibits employees from making personal calls on county phones. He said he needed the portable phone to keep up with his elected duties while driving and at work. The phone could be used in his Mercedes or pickup truck or could be taken from the vehicles and used in his office.

Blaszcak said he plans to open his own government consulting business.

In July, the council approved purchase of the phone by a 4-1 vote but mandated that any future material purchases in excess of $200 must first be approved by the full council. Members also agreed to pay Blaszcak's monthly phone bills.

Contentious debate over the phone has dominated council meetings for the last month. Blaszcak and Mayor John Tapp, who were elected on the same slate of slow-growth candidates in April, drifted apart when Tapp strongly opposed council approval of Blaszcak's phone and have become bitter foes.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Tapp again criticized Blaszcak's use of the phone, suggesting that he had used it for personal as well as city business.

"I'm glad he finally turned the phone in," Tapp said later. "I've always been against it as a needless expense."

Some residents of the city of 30,000 have also criticized Blaszcak for purchasing the phone while the city is struggling to cope with a projected 1988-89 deficit of $630,000. Some have used the issue to accuse the new council members of mismanagement caused by their inexperience. A few others have supported the idea, saying it was a necessary council expense.

"The phone issue was a matter of principle to me," Blaszcak said Wednesday. "I did not want to compromise my employer's policies. And I was not going to fold to promiscuous political pressure."

Will Use Credit Card

Blaszcak said he will use a credit card to make personal calls, which he will pay for, until he leaves his county job in September.

City Manager Robert Clute said he had not decided what the city will do with the phone. The two main options, he said, would be to try to return the phone and recover some of the cost, or to turn it over to the Police Department to use on patrol or in case of a disaster.

At Tuesday's meeting, Tapp read aloud portions of the June bill for Blaszcak's calls on the portable phone. He said only 26% of the calls were city-related, including several calls to the city treasurer and City Council members and a single call to a constituent.

The $104.39 bill also included several calls to Blaszcak's home.

Blaszcak said Tapp has misinterpreted the bill.

The phone carries a monthly access charge of $45 plus 45 cents per minute for each incoming or outgoing call.

Tapp also raised questions about five calls Blaszcak made to attorney R. Zaiden Corrado, who briefly served as interim city attorney after the new council members were sworn in. Corrado was appointed with West Covina consultant Xavier Hermosillo to form a "transition team," but both resigned under pressure after their ties to development-minded Irwindale became an issue.

The complaints about calls to Corrado drew fire from Blaszcak, who accused Tapp of improperly promising Hermosillo that the city would pay Corrado's bill for an investigation of the Police Department. Blaszcak said Corrado has threatened to sue the city and Tapp if the city does not pay the $7,000 bill, which Corrado reduced from $12,000.

No Contract Approved

Blaszcak said he called Corrado in an attempt to persuade him not to file a lawsuit. "I'm tired of the mayor acting as though he's above reproach. He is responsible for much of the mess we're in," Blaszcak said Wednesday.

Tapp said that there may have been a misunderstanding but that he never told Corrado the city would pay for the investigation of the Police Department. The city would not have had to pay the bill anyway because no contract had been approved with Corrado's firm, Tapp said.

"I did not make any guarantees at all" with Corrado, Tapp said. "After he left the city, I never had any further contact with him. These stories sound like something out of a movie script."

Clute confirmed that the city will not pay the bill because no contract was ever approved.

In other business Tuesday, the council tentatively approved an ordinance requiring that an automatic sprinkler system be placed in all new residential and commercial structures, in current buildings exceeding 4,000 square feet and when alterations would increase potential fire hazards. A final vote will be taken at the next meeting.

The council also approved hiring Conrad & Associates of Irvine as the city's new auditing firm.

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