Glaring at a lawyer making a presentation to the Oxnard City Council, Councilman Michael A. Plisky bristled at the suggestion to limit debate on a matter up for discussion.
"It seems to me we can discuss any damn thing we want," Plisky snapped at the attorney, who fell silent.
Meanwhile, Plisky's wife, Mabi, who happens to be the city clerk, was calmly passing out caramels to reporters at the press table.
It was another example of the contrasting styles of Ventura County's only married couple who hold elective office.
Blunt and combative, Michael Plisky has the tartest tongue on the council--an attitude that has earned him plenty of enemies. His wife, on the other hand, projects a calm, efficient demeanor that has even won over her husband's hard-core political rivals.
"I try to stay out of politics," said Mabi Plisky, 37, Oxnard's all-time champion vote-getter. No one has ever surpassed the 24,000 votes that she received when she first ran for office in 1980.
Despite accusations years ago of playing favorites with her councilman husband, Mabi Plisky has maintained her record of election victories by fostering an image of competence and neutrality. In her last reelection, she beat her opponent 2 to 1.
Unlike her husband, Mabi Plisky grew into the job of city clerk. An Oxnard native, she first went to work in City Hall as a stenographer/secretary in 1976. Two years later, she became deputy city clerk and was promoted to acting city clerk when the incumbent left in 1979.
"I keep the council's records and I conduct city elections," Mabi Plisky said. Although she acknowledges that she is fascinated by Oxnard's raucous politics, she emphasizes her adherence to a position of neutrality and says she has her assistants handle any election involving her husband. "I think his opponents feel more comfortable that way."
Michael Plisky, whose results at the polls have been less triumphant than his wife's, says he wants to change his style. "I'm trying to tone it down," Plisky said. He even helped plan a "team-building workshop" in Solvang next weekend to smooth relations among city officials.
At age 50, Plisky has won both times that he has tried for the council but is zero for two in attempts to unseat five-term Mayor Nao Takasugi. Still, his popularity as the city's fiscal watchdog helped him lead the field of 12 council candidates in last year's election--quite a feat for a conservative, Republican Anglo in a city of mostly Democratic Latinos.
Yet some of his detractors are slow to forget the swipes that he's taken in the past.
He once called now-departed city manager David Mora "a master of deceit and deception" who "misled the council" about Oxnard's sagging finances.
During the 1988 campaign, he labeled Takasugi a "weak leader" who resorted to hiring a political consultant with "an unsavory reputation."
And he has described veteran Councilman Manuel M. Lopez as "the one who annoys me the most."
Several years ago, Michael Plisky's opponents tried to mount a counterattack by charging that Mabi Plisky was skewing the council's minutes in her husband's favor and leaking secrets to him about city business. That criticism has died away, and the Pliskys insist that there was never any substance to it anyway.
The Pliskys, who were married in 1985, live in a house overlooking the River Ridge Golf Course in northwest Oxnard. Their marriage is the first for Mabi Plisky and the second for her husband.
Michael Plisky spends much of his spare time working on a model railroad that threatens to consume the garage. Somewhat sheepishly, he admits to owning 40 locomotives and 600 railroad cars, most of which are stored away awaiting completion of the tracks.
Mabi Plisky said she has found a way to avoid being irritated at the expense. "Every time he buys a new car or locomotive, I buy a new dress," she said.
Michael Plisky, who holds a degree in management from USC, gave up an executive's career at Capitol Records in Hollywood and moved to Oxnard in 1973.
"Two guys I had worked with had committed suicide," he said. "That convinced me it was time to get out of the corporate life."
He said he decided to open a business and tax consulting concern in Oxnard "because I read someplace that the Oxnard area was destined to become the key financial center between Los Angeles and San Francisco."
Plisky held political ambitions, too, stemming largely from his frustration in handling Capitol Records' tax problems. "The Internal Revenue Service was constantly announcing that it was simplifying its tax forms, but I noticed that the forms kept getting worse, not better. The government was guaranteeing lifetime jobs for tax preparers."
In fast-growing Oxnard, Plisky's business prospered. He became president of the Chamber of Commerce and took an interest in the city's growing financial problems.