MONTEREY PARK — City Council members Judy Chu, Betty Couch and Patricia M. Reichenberger have issued warnings to their two council colleagues, saying the three will walk out of council meetings if personal attacks, such as those that happened last year, reoccur.
The three council members are upset by what they say have been public and private attacks on them by Mayor Barry L. Hatch and Councilman Christopher F. Houseman. On several occasions last year, Hatch launched verbal attacks against the other four council members during meetings.
The warnings came in the form of separate letters written by the three councilwomen, who distributed them to the other members of the council.
"These attacks are uncalled for, and destructive. . . . Disagreement on issues should be a healthy part of the democratic process, not a detraction," Chu wrote in her letter. "We cannot force others to agree with us, whether it be through intimidation or personal attack."
'Hordes of Invaders'
Last year Hatch rebuked Chu, who had criticized him for a letter he wrote complaining about "hordes of invaders" coming across the nation's borders and about lax enforcement of U. S. immigration laws. Hatch wrote his letter on city stationery and sent it to candidates for state and federal office.
Hatch has publicly accused Chu of lying about him to Chinese-language newspapers published in Monterey Park. On separate occasions Hatch has blasted Couch and Reichenberger on different matters that came before the council.
At one council meeting last September, then-Mayor Houseman engaged in lengthy and severe criticism of Chu over a debate on the proper use of city stationery.
In their letters, dated Jan. 5, and in interviews this week, the councilwomen said they want to restore an image of orderliness and decorum to the city's government. The three women said their letters had been intended as private communications with fellow council members and were not intended to be part of a public discussion. Likewise, the three councilwomen would not go into any detail about verbal attacks that occurred in private.
Goal of Letter
"I didn't want this to become a big, public argument," Couch said.
But she said the goal of her letter was to ensure that the city conduct its "business in a businesslike manner."
In her letter, Couch wrote that "when any council member personally attacks another council member or a member of our staff, it deeply offends me."
The letters were written, Couch said, after she discovered that the three councilwomen shared similar concerns.
In her letter, Reichenberger declared one of her New Year's resolutions is to leave any meeting in which a council member attacks a colleague. Reichenberger illustrated her resolve by referring to an incident last year when, in disgust over name-calling, she left a council meeting. She also complained of "political games and bickering, which are evident at every meeting" and wrote that "personal attacks usually show a professional with low self-esteem or lacking confidence."
In response, Hatch said in an interview that "the democratic process demands that we discuss, debate and, if necessary, argue issues that are vital."
When he was the object of an unsuccessful recall attempt, Hatch said he had to withstand extensive criticism during council meetings. If he attacks anyone these days, Hatch said, it is because "of righteous indignation. If I've attacked anyone, it's been because of the misuse of the trust placed in them."
Nonetheless, Hatch said that as the chairman of meetings, he would intervene if council members attack one another. "We should stay within the boundaries of the issues," he said.
Noting that the three who wrote the letters are women, Hatch said he would open the door for them or let them go ahead in line "because I appreciate their womanhood," but as council members, he said, they "need to forget they are female."
Reichenberger said Hatch "has got this ungodly deal about women against men."
But Couch said "it's not a woman and man issue, in my book." And Chu said it would be too simplistic to interpret any conflicts between Hatch and Houseman and the others as male-female related.
Houseman could not be reached for comment.
On Monday, council members met with an organizational consultant to help them learn to work together. "It's no secret that the council members are coming from different perspectives," said City Manager Mark Lewis. "But my analysis is that they all want to do the best thing for the city and to work together. And they have made some real progress in doing that."
The meeting was planned last fall, long before the three council members wrote the letters. Lewis said the idea for the meeting was proposed when council members acknowledged difficulty in getting along with one another.