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Resident Tries in Vain to Check Furor Over Letter

September 18, 1988|BERKLEY HUDSON | Times Staff Writer

MONTEREY PARK — With the hope of ending a dispute that has swirled around a letter Mayor Pro Tem Barry L. Hatch wrote about illegal aliens, resident Clifford E. Sharp pulled out his checkbook in the middle of Wednesday's City Council meeting.

After defending Hatch's letter, which bemoaned America's laxity in curbing illegal immigration, Sharp began to write a check for $101.35. The letter had been mailed at city expense to six dozen candidates for state and national offices, including George Bush and Michael S. Dukakis.

"My wife and I would deem it an honor to pay that $101.35 to make these hypocrites happy," Sharp said referring to those who argue that Hatch should repay the costs of the July 28 letter.

Use of City Stationery

But the payment did not settle the matter during a meeting in which Hatch blasted Councilwoman Judy Chu, who has questioned his use of city stationery to express a private, political opinion.

Hatch demanded, but did not receive, an apology from Chu. "To put yourself correct in my eyes," Hatch told Chu, "you should apologize to me and to the residents of Monterey Park for making something so crucial look racist.

"Don't you dare do this to me again," Hatch said to Chu. "I will not tolerate it from you. The minute you ever start something so ugly and so divisive and so inhumane, I will stand tall and loud. This is nothing (compared) to what I'll do if you ever try this again."

Chu said very little in response during Hatch's lengthy comments. But she did say, "It's shameful that you are berating another council person."

'Not Going to Participate'

In an interview later, Chu said: "I don't think a council meeting should be conducted that way. I'm not going to participate in that kind of tirade."

The issue she raised about the use of city stationery, Chu said, is "a legitimate question about public funds being used for private political purposes."

In Hatch's letter, which was published in a local weekly newspaper, the News Digest, he complained about "hordes of invaders" resulting from illegal immigration. He called for the closing of the nation's borders, the removal of illegal aliens and the enforcement of laws guarding against abuse of visas.

Signed by 139 Residents

The issue was first raised at Wednesday's meeting by resident Marjorie Kemmerer, who told the council that she had mailed a letter to Hatch demanding that he apologize for his letter and repay the city for the $101.35. This is what city officials said it cost to prepare and mail the letter, she said. Her letter, she said, was signed by 139 outraged residents.

"Your right to express a personal opinion is not in question," she told the council, quoting from her letter. But, she said, the problem stemmed from Hatch's use of city stationery, which gave the appearance that he was speaking for all Monterey Park residents. And, she continued, Hatch made statements in his letter "that many felt were reprehensible."

If Hatch did not make restitution to the city's treasury, Kemmerer said, her group planned to take legal action against him.

About midnight, after most residents had left the meeting, the council debated a recommendation by the city's support services manager, Warren K. Funk, that stationery with the city's seal should be reserved for official city business. Funk was responding to a request last month from Chu. "The weight given or pressure used by the city title, letterhead or seal can be considerable," Funk said in a report to the council.

Majority Approval Urged

Funk suggested that a majority of the council be required to approve a council member's use of stationery for purposes other than congratulatory letters, responses to invitations or other routine business of a council member.

Mayor Christopher F. Houseman suggested that the council simply "receive and file" Funk's recommendation. On a 3-2 vote, the council decided to take no action.

"This policy is popping out to us literally within days of a very strong attack on (Hatch)," Houseman said.

"We're elected as representatives of thousands of people out there, and with that election comes the responsibility and the right to speak for what people's opinions may be about issues," Houseman said. "And every councilman should have that right, unrestricted and unfettered. It doesn't matter that people disagree with that opinion."

But Councilwoman Betty Couch said the council needed to deal with the use of city stationery. In March, during Couch's campaign for election, the council sent out letters to all residents, calling into question her statements about water quality problems in the city. Houseman is the only member left on the council who voted to mail the letters, which at the time were criticized as an attack against Couch.

Chu, citing that incident and others, said some policy is needed.

But Hatch, strongly objecting, went into a lengthy defense of the content of his letter and questioned Chu's motivation.

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