WHITTIER — The City Council has voted unanimously to bar the unauthorized use of Whittier's city logo, two months after a local Assembly candidate put the logo and a city return address on a campaign mailer before the June primary.
"I got one in the mail," council member Helen Rahder said after the meeting Tuesday. "It's not only misleading. If I put somebody else's name and address on something, it's not only false, it's just wrong. I was appalled."
Although the vote was unanimous, other council members were not as adamant about the issue or its importance. "I don't think (the vote) was necessary," Myron Claxton said before the meeting. "I felt (using the logo) was no big deal. I went along with it because, heck, you might as well make it clear that (the city logo) should be used only for official business."
Claxton and fellow council member Robert Woehrmann played an apparently unknowing part in the controversy when they allowed their names to appear on a letter endorsing former 52nd Assembly District candidate Phil Mautino, who finished sixth in the Republican primary won by Paul V. Horcher.
"I said I'd sign a letter," Claxton said. "I've known Phil for many years. When he indicated there might be other people signing the letter, I said that would be fine."
In addition to himself and Woehrmann, the letter was signed by former Whittier Mayors Victor Lopez and Gene Chandler.
Claxton said he did not know the endorsement letter would appear under Whittier's logo, which is the name of the city printed over a drawing of City Hall.
"The envelope it was mailed in had the same texture and appearance of city stationery," City Manager Tom Mauk said. "And the return address was City Hall. That was the first thing we were concerned about. Then, when they opened the letter up, it had the city logo on top."
The letter begins: "As members and former members of the Whittier City Council, we are writing to ask for your help in electing Phil Mautino to the California State Assembly." The letter then describes why the undersigned chose to endorse Mautino. At the bottom of the letter is a disclaimer stating, "Not printed or mailed at taxpayer expense. Paid for by Phil Mautino for Assembly."
Because of the disclaimer, "we didn't see any legal violation of election law," Mauk said. "Certainly, it was an ethical question. We wanted it made clear that it wasn't a city-sponsored mailer."
In the future, because of the council action, the penalty for a misdemeanor offense will be a fine of not more than $500, a prison term of not more than six months, or both.
Rahder said she could not believe appropriating the city logo was not already against the law. "I would have thought it was illegal to begin with," she said. "Mautino's an attorney. He should know better. To me, it's like forgery."
She said the council action "is just a slap on the wrist. I don't think that's enough. I think that he should have been reported to the Fair Political Practices Commission."
"I'm sorry if it offended anyone," said Mautino of the mailer sent to local Republicans about three weeks before the primary. "I didn't know the logo of Whittier was being used. The campaign staff put the logo on and thought it was justified and legal. It fully identified the people who signed the letter. The return address of the city was used because, for the people who signed the letter, that's where they receive their return mail.
"Primarily, the people who've raised objections are the two Democrats, Henderson and Rahder," he said. "I think it's been a partisan political thing. I think they're probably overreacting.
"I'm not using that as an excuse. I'll take the heat for it."
Mautino pointed out that official-looking logos and titles appear throughout campaign literature around election time. In his own files, he has a letter of endorsement for another candidate that bears the state Assembly logo. That mailer was signed by a state assemblyman. Mautino also has a letter signed by Los Angeles City Council member Joan Milke Flores pushing her candidacy for secretary of state. At the top of the letter is the Los Angeles City Council logo.
Such practices are common, said Charles Davis, Compton's city clerk for the last 18 years. "I would use my city letterhead on a letter for you or someone else as a character reference."
In a campaign endorsement, "at the bottom, you say, 'Not paid for at taxpayer expense.' Members of Congress do it all the time," Davis said.
Appropriating a city's logo is a somewhat different matter, he said. "I really don't know. In Compton's code, I don't see anything that really relates to it," he said.
"We've never had a problem in all my years here," said Mary Paxon, the city clerk in Norwalk. "If somebody used it without permission, we'd have to look into the matter. I have no idea."