POMONA — For 10 of the past 20 years, C. L. (Clay) Bryant has been an outsider at City Hall. In his four terms as a City Council member, he usually has been a dissenting voice, chiding the council majority for playing political games and ignoring the will of the people.
Now Bryant is part of the majority. Newly elected Councilman Tomas Ursua has joined Bryant and Councilwoman Nell Soto to form a "people-oriented" coalition that flexed its muscle for the first time last week by firing City Administrator A. J. Wilson.
Bryant has promised more sweeping changes in personnel and policy, including a shake-up of the city's public safety services that may eliminate the position of Police Chief Richard M. Tefank. Also on the new majority's agenda, he said, are the election of council members by district and the establishment of a commission to oversee police, both of which were rejected by the council last year.
But, as they wield their new-found power, Bryant and the new majority have become targets of the same criticism Bryant has leveled at the council majority for years.
Mayor Donna Smith, citing what she called the community's "outrage" over Wilson's firing, will give residents the opportunity to express their opposition to the council's action at Monday night's meeting. Smith said her office has been inundated with calls since the council ousted the city administrator.
"Most of them are unhappy with the council's decision," Smith said of the callers. "They're calling it an irrational act. They're asking that Mr. Wilson be reinstated . . . . The public wants an explanation."
Smith said she hopes one of the council members who voted to oust Wilson, will reconsider, but she said there is a "very small possibility" of that happening.
Bryant reacted angrily to Smith's placement of the matter on the agenda, calling the mayor "a low-class tramp," and "less than dirt."
Smith said Bryant had sought to coerce her to remove Wilson's termination from discussion by threatening to publicly humiliate her at Monday's meeting. Because the two do not speak to each other, Smith said the threat was conveyed to her by City Atty. Patrick J. Sampson, who is the acting city administrator.
"Mr. Bryant sent . . . Mr. Sampson to my office to tell me to remove the item from the agenda or else every scumbag in the city would be at the council meeting to attack my personal life with anything they could dig up," Smith said.
Bryant vehemently denied sending such a threat and called Smith a liar. "I've never used the word, 'scumbag,' " he said. "What I told Patrick was that if she wants to play this kind of hardball, I'm going to bring some rowdy people down here to tell her what she is."
This latest exchange of invective came less than two weeks after Smith and Bryant pledged at a council meeting to end their long-running personal dispute. Each has accused the other of breaking the truce.
In yet another salvo, Bryant placed an item on Monday's agenda, calling on the council to find that Wilson violated the City Code in January by hiring as his executive assistant Hector Godinez, a colleague of Wilson's during his stint as Santa Ana city manager. Bryant has proposed that Godinez be fired immediately and that the city sue Wilson to recover the salary paid to Godinez.
The mayor has accused the new council majority of "violating the spirit" of the state's open meeting law by working out their plans to fire Wilson before last week's meeting.
"The three of them came to the closed session with notes in hand," Smith said. "Mr. Bryant had a letter he wanted Mr. Wilson to sign, and it was already typed up."
Councilman Mark Nymeyer stormed out of the council's meeting last week to protest the "kangaroo court" he believed Bryant, Soto and Ursua had convened to terminate Wilson. Nymeyer said he fears other city officials will meet a similar fate.
"We have to sit back and see who else's head rolls," Nymeyer said. "There's no telling what will happen in the next two or three weeks. Clay had his day in court (Monday) night. He was in total control and acted in total disregard of anything that was proper or right."
Bryant said such criticism is music to his ears.
"It did me good to hear Nymeyer squeal," he said. "The good old boys are all up-tight. They're all screaming and hollering."
Ursua said the sudden action by the council helped demonstrate that a new majority--with new priorities--had taken office.
"There's been an old boy network running this city for 100 years," he said. "I guess that, when you replace a 100-year-old junta, the best thing to do is show a little decisiveness."
'Gang of Three'
Although critics have dubbed the new council majority "the gang of three," Soto and Ursua have said they will not vote in lock step with Bryant.
"When I think he's right, I vote for him," Soto said. "And when he's not, I don't. I'm feisty, and I have my own mind. We agree on a lot of things that are people-oriented, not Establishment-oriented."
As they embark on their aggressive campaign for change, the three council members said they believe they have the support of the community. Soto said the March election, in which voters returned Bryant to office and replaced incumbent E. J. (Jay) Gaulding with Ursua, was a kind of mandate.
"If the people didn't want change, they wouldn't have voted for it," Soto said. Bryant concurred: "Nell knows what the people in town want, and so does Tommy (Ursua). I'm confident people know what we're trying to do."
However, Smith said the three majority members should not expect overwhelming support for their actions when residents comment on Wilson's firing Monday night.
"They may be surprised to find out what the people want," she said.