CUDAHY — A political tug of war has broken out among City Council members over a proposal that would grant bingo operators three-year licenses.
The controversy began two weeks ago when Acting City Manager Jack Joseph denied a request by Compton businessman John Mgrdichian for a three-year extension of his license to operate bingo games in Cudahy. Mgrdichian's one-year license expires in August.
Councilman Bill Colon then proposed an ordinance change that would allow the three-year license. He also proposed that the City Council hire a city manager--a move that critics say is aimed at ousting Joseph from his job.
Both proposals are on the council agenda Monday night. They have provoked criticism from Councilmen Joseph Fregeau and Joseph Graffio, who question Colon's motives, saying he wants a different city manager because Joseph refused to extend Mgrdichian's license.
Councilman John Robertson has joined Colon in supporting the proposal for a three-year license. Councilman Tom Thurman, who would have cast the deciding vote, resigned unexpectedly last week.
Thurman denied that the coming vote on the bingo proposal was the reason he resigned just 2 1/2 months before his term would have expire.
"That's not the main reason," Thurman said. "After a while I got tired of putting up with the baloney from month to month. But if it was just that (bingo), it would have been easier for me just not to show up at the meeting and continue to get paid."
Two years ago, Mgrdichian formed the Social Service Foundation, a charitable organization that was to host bingo games to support the fledgling Cudahy Social Service Agency, funded by the city.
The Social Service Agency no longer exists, but last August Mgrdichian was granted a one-year license to operate a 450-seat bingo parlor on Santa Ana Street. Two months ago he asked the city for the three-year extension.
After meeting with the city attorney, Joseph wrote Mgrdichian that he could not legally renew a license until 30 days before its expiration date, and that even then he could renew it for only one year.
Although Colon put his proposal to hire a city manager on the council agenda soon after Mgrdichian's request was denied, he said there is no connection between the two. Colon said he has been asking for months that Mgrdichian receive a three-year license.
Colon said Joseph does not have enough experience to be a city manager. "He is in way over his head," the councilman said.
Fregeau disagreed: "I believe Jack is well qualified to do the job, and I would like to see him become the permanent city manager."
Joseph was named acting city manager in September after Gerald Caton resigned to become city manager of Downey.
Fregeau said he thinks Mgrdichian is seeking a three-year license to pave the way for a card casino.
Mgrdichian denied that he wants to start a card casino. "I don't even see what one has to do with the other," he said.
Joseph said that even if Mgrdichian did decide to open a card casino, he could not do so without council approval.
Mgrdichian said the Social Service Foundation has borrowed more than $1 million to demolish the building at 4610 Santa Ana St. and begin building the bingo parlor.
"We're investing quite a bit of money," he said. "Too much money for just a one-year license. I just want to make sure my investment is secure."
Once the bingo games are running, sometime late this year, Mgrdichian said, some of the profits would be donated to the foundation to repay the loans and some would go to other charitable organizations. One percent of monthly profits over $5,000 would go to the city.
Under state law, all profits from bingo games, minus operating costs, must go to charitable organizations.