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Molina, Mayor at Odds Over 9th No-Show : Council: Dispute over latest cancellation revolves around what was on the agenda and who wanted to meet behind closed doors.

February 23, 1992|MIKE WARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

POMONA — Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina said her introductory meeting with the Pomona City Council last week was supposed to be "a get-acquainted, meet-and-greet kind of thing."

But Molina abruptly canceled the meeting less than an hour before it was to begin last Wednesday.

The supervisor said she found out that the council wanted to meet behind closed doors to negotiate serious issues, and that she feared such a meeting might violate the state's Brown Act, which permits closed meetings only for limited purposes.

Not true, said Mayor Donna Smith--it was Molina's aides who said the supervisor wanted to meet in secret and that Molina pulled out when she learned that the press and public would attend.

"The mayor is a little confused," Molina said.

The supervisor "is afraid to face the music," Smith countered.

City Councilman Tomas Ursua later entered the picture, saying that the supervisor was wise to bow out because Smith, who is running for the state Assembly, was planning to use the meeting for political gain.

Whatever the reason, Molina not only canceled the session with the City Council at the last minute, but her action continued her office's pattern of scheduling and postponing meetings with the lawmakers.

"This is the ninth time Pomona has been slapped in the face," Smith said.

Since Pomona was added to Molina's district in November, the supervisor has scheduled eight meetings with the council--and postponed each for various reasons before canceling the ninth.

Smith said Molina has not been seen in Pomona since October, when she served as grand marshal for the Founder's Day Parade.

Molina said she did not learn until Wednesday that the council had printed an agenda for the meeting, loaded it with serious issues and planned to go into closed session with her. She canceled the session on such short notice that most of the council members showed up at City Hall before they could be notified.

The items on the agenda included the city's complaint about inadequate parking at the local Department of Public Social Services office and at county court buildings in the city, and the issue of whether the county or the city should control ambulance service in Pomona.

Smith said the council would have gone into closed session on the city attorney's advice if the discussion had gone into matters that legally can be discussed behind closed doors, such as litigation or property negotiations.

But the mayor said it was Molina's office, not the city, that was pushing for secrecy. She said a Molina aide told her that the supervisor "wants to meet in a closed, informal session without the public."

The aide could not be reached for comment. But Molina said the mayor must have misunderstood, or confused, the proposed informal meeting with her with other private meetings that may be required to negotiate such matters as additional parking for the county facilities. The supervisor said it is not her job to negotiate for the county.

Molina said she still hopes to meet with the council, either in an informal session or formally. But if there is to be a formal meeting with an agenda, the supervisor said, she wants time to review the issues to be discussed.

Ursua said the mayor was planning to attack the county so she would be perceived as "standing up to the power structure." The councilman said he thought about staying away from the meeting because "I foresaw a major brawl between the mayor and the supervisor."

Smith said: "We had some real sensitive issues to be discussed, (but) I had no intention of embarrassing Gloria."

Ursua said he believes that Molina, not the city, was pressing for a private meeting. What is surprising, the councilman said, is that Smith says she is offended by that when the council recently held a three-day strategic planning session out of public view at Lake Arrowhead.

Smith said she sent a letter Thursday to Molina noting that although nine meeting dates have been broken, "it has been decided that you should be given another chance to meet with us."

The mayor offered three proposed dates and asked Molina to pick one, in writing, so that there would be "no further confusion."

Smith emphasized in the letter that "The Pomona City Council, for the record, has ALWAYS WANTED to have an OPEN PUBLIC MEETING!"

The mayor presented a seven-point agenda and suggested that Molina add any items she would like to discuss.

Molina's office had no comment on the letter.

The mayor's agenda includes an item labeled "Pomona's identity." Smith said the city's identity crisis involves the fact that the county does not give Pomona the attention it deserves as the largest city in the San Gabriel Valley. Because Pomona is at the eastern edge of the county, Smith said, officials routinely ignore it.

"We're out of sight, out of mind," she said.

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