HAWAIIAN GARDENS — Some city officials are facetiously calling it the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
In a move that was not entirely unexpected, each of the five City Council members was served Tuesday night with notice that political foes have launched separate campaigns to oust them in a recall election.
The required notification came at the end of an otherwise calm council meeting. But several council members said they suspected that it had been planned over several weeks and orchestrated to fall on a day traditionally reserved for displaying affection.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks," said Councilman Donald E. Schultze.
But Tuesday's development is only the latest in what has been a series of controversies that have pitted council members against each other and various foes. The officials have bitterly feuded recently over city finances, a bid to convert the Elks Club quarters into a large-scale bingo parlor and the recent Community Redevelopment Agency purchase of a vacant plot on Carson Street.
In fact, several council members accused each other of being behind the recall efforts that began Tuesday.
The scene unfolded as the council was hearing testimony on an unrelated issue, Mayor Kathleen M. Navejas said. An unidentified woman suddenly walked up to the council table and handed Navejas, Mayor Pro Tem Rosalie M. Sher and Councilman Venn Furgeson written notices announcing that they are to be the targets of a recall.
After the council took a five-minute recess to read the notices, Public Safety Commissioner Art Perez--in apparent retaliation--presented similar hand-written notices to Councilman Schultze and Councilwoman H.M. (Lennie) Wagner. Perez is a close friend of Navejas.
City officials said Wednesday morning that they were having trouble locating the notices and could not immediately identify the woman who served Navejas, Sher and Furgeson.
The petitioners have seven days to certify their intent to recall the council members. After that, they have 60 days to draft a petition and collect at least 850 signatures against each council member, City Clerk Carol Dorfmeyer said.
But until an official notice of intent to recall is filed with her, Dorfmeyer said, "I don't assume that any recall is under way."
Sher called the recall flap ridiculous and frivolous.
"The recall never was intended to be used in this manner (for) a personal vendetta for no reason," Sher said.
'Not Good for City'
The council's continuous squabbling, she complained, is divisive and not good for the city's image. "It damages creditability with each other. It damages creditability with the people out there. . . . We have important matters to take care of. It hinders our effectiveness. If you have malfeasance in office it's one thing. This is not the case."
Sher, along with other council members, predicted that the recall attempts would not succeed.
Wagner could not be reached for comment.
Furgeson dismissed the recall attempt against him, saying, "They may not even get enough signatures so why worry about them."
He called the recall "a lot of wasted energy." Other people have tried recalls against other council members and failed, he said.
Both Sher and Furgeson said they are not part of the recall attempt against Schultze and Wagner, even though they have had sharp disagreements over city policies.
"I think it was done by somebody from the outside to divide us," Schultze said, denying that he was behind any of the recall efforts. He suggested that former council member Richard Vineyard, who has announced that he will seek election next year, may be behind the recall effort of Navejas, Sher, Furgeson.
Navejas and Schultze have been political foes since the city discovered it was experiencing severe financial problems last fall.
Vineyard, who has also often feuded with Navejas in recent years, denied Wednesday that he had anything to do with the recall effort.
"It would not be to my advantage," Vineyard said.
Vineyard was the target of a recall effort little more than two years ago. The leaders of the movement failed to garner enough signatures.