ANAHEIM — After a raucous debate and exchange of insults, the City Council Tuesday ousted Planning Commissioner Glenn Hellyer for what a majority called the "perception" that his private business interests and his commission duties were tied too closely.
The 3-2 vote followed charges by Councilman Tom Daly that his colleagues were engaged in an "outrageous attempt to smear this man" and a plea from the flustered mayor for "maturity."
At issue were the planning commissioner's $20,000 investment in a local restaurant, Yves Bistro, and his role in brokering a lease agreement for the relocation of the Rose & Crown bar. Both establishments are inside the city's redevelopment area.
As part of the seven-member planning panel, Hellyer presides over a range of development requests and applications, both throughout the city and within the redevelopment area.
Councilman William D. Ehrle, who has led the movement to oust Hellyer, said the commissioner's private business dealings have the appearance of conflict of interest.
Mayor Fred Hunter, who was joined by Councilmen Ehrle and Bob D. Simpson in the vote for the commissioner's ouster, claimed that Hellyer had trod too close to the "line where there is a perception of impropriety."
But Daly, a Hellyer backer, told the council: "I'm thinking of a town in Massachusetts that has just celebrated the 300th anniversary of witch trials. The town is Salem. And this is a witch hunt of the first order."
Daly said the commissioner's business interests never breached the state's conflict of interest laws.
"This must be politically motivated (and) orchestrated with the meanest of all intent."
The mayor said he took particular exception to Hellyer's investment in Yves Bistro. Although before Hellyer's investment, Hunter said, the restaurant also benefited from a low-interest loan approved by the city's Redevelopment Agency to improve the location for the restaurant.
"He's a realtor, and he's out there making money in the redevelopment area," Hunter said. "I believe he has used poor judgment."
Said the mayor, pushing a piece of wood to the edge of the dais and allowing it to fall: "Pretty soon, we go over the line. We are all under a duty to stay away from a perception of impropriety."
Hellyer was not present at the meeting, but two local business leaders, including Hellyer's associate, realtor Paul Kott, lauded his commission service.
"Please abandon the mean-spirited effort of his dismissal," Kott told the council. "We reject the behind-the-scenes, back-room political maneuvering."
As a member of the seven-member planning panel for three years, Hellyer had presided over a range of development requests, applications throughout the city and within the redevelopment area.
Ehrle also said Hellyer violated the city's ethics code when he strongly criticized council members two weeks ago after learning that the council had discussed ousting him in a closed session.
According to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, planning agency members are prohibited from acquiring property within redevelopment zones.
But City Atty. Jack L. White has said that the prohibition does not extend to investing in businesses leased from property owners within the zone.
City records show that Hellyer abstained from voting on Yves Bistro's 1991 request for a permit to sell alcohol. He said he also planned to abstain from votes on the Rose & Crown.
In a letter delivered to the City Council Tuesday, Hellyer said there was speculation that his ouster was orchestrated by Newport Beach lobbyist Frank Elfend, one of the largest contributors to local political campaigns.
And Councilman Daly strongly defended Hellyer's claims, alleging that Elfend has in the past been privy to the subjects of closed-session discussions by the council.
Elfend called the claims "absolutely and emphatically incorrect."
* VENDOR VOTE DELAYED
Council gives vendors a week to compromise with residents or face ban. B12