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Crisis at Home Costs Councilman Title of Mayor : Politics: Joseph B. Dimas Sr. lives outside the city because of a dispute with his son over ownership of the house they once shared.

April 22, 1993|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COMMERCE — A father-son conflict has left former Mayor Pro Tem James B. Dimas Sr. locked out of his Commerce home, and that battle has apparently cost him the city's highest post.

The City Council skipped over him this week for the ceremonial title of mayor because he is living in South Gate.

Typically, the mayor pro tem is chosen to serve as mayor for one year as the two posts rotate among council members. But when nominations were opened at Tuesday's council meeting, Ruth Aldaco was the only name mentioned for mayor. Ruben Batres was selected mayor pro tem.

"What angers me is that for 19 years I represented this city," Dimas, 52, said in an interview. "When I had a crisis at home, the community turned on me."

Dimas announced that he will not seek reelection when his term expires in April, 1994.

A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, Dimas has served more years than anyone on the current council and has been mayor three times. He sat silently, peering down at papers on his desk as Aldaco was nominated.

Later, he downplayed the significance of the mayoral post, saying he can accomplish more in his final year without the added pressure of being the city's main figurehead.

"The mayorship is nothing but a title," Dimas said. "It still takes three votes to get anything done on the City Council."

Dimas said he has lived outside the city since the first week of December because of a legal dispute over the title to his Commerce home.

Dimas said he and his son, James B. Dimas Jr., shared the title to the Leo Avenue home until mid-August. Then, Dimas Sr. signed over his interest in the home so the younger Dimas could qualify for a personal loan. The son has since refused to sign back the elder Dimas' share, as the two had agreed, according to the father.

Dimas Sr. contends that his son, who now owns the home, changed the locks in mid-October and evicted him. Dimas Sr. lived with friends in Commerce until early December, when he moved in with his new wife, Lleanne Herrera, at her home in the Hollydale section of South Gate--seven miles south of Commerce City Hall.

Dimas Jr. said that his father offered him the title, provided the house would not be sold, because Dimas Sr. planned to marry and move out of the city once he was off the City Council. Dimas Jr. contends that his father stopped living at the house full-time in mid-September, only sleeping there to give the impression to neighbors that he still lived in the city. The son said he changed the locks only after his father had moved out.

"On the (transfer) deed it says all interest in the home belongs to me," Dimas Jr. said. "He has nothing here."

Dimas Sr. said he did not move to another location in Commerce because City Atty. William Camil assured him that he remains eligible to serve on the council. In a memo to the council, Camil said that residency is determined by a council member's "intent" to remain permanently in the community, not by a "temporary removal."

Camil noted that Dimas Sr. is barred by court order from returning to his former Commerce home until litigation with his son is resolved. Dimas Sr. is suing his son for fraud and hopes to have the recent title transfer to his home voided.

Dimas is registered to vote in Commerce and he receives mail at the home of a Commerce friend.

Nonetheless, council members said that community opinion outweighed the city attorney's opinion.

"It certainly does not put us in a good stead by having someone living outside the city who is serving as mayor," Councilman Robert J. Cornejo said.

Council members said their decision also was influenced by Dimas' seeming inability in recent years to get along with several city department heads. Dimas has called into question expenditures and work habits of employees of the city Public Services Department. City Administrator Louis Shepard said an outside investigation found no wrongdoing.

In an apparent swipe at his council colleagues, Dimas also questioned the necessity of their travel plans, including an upcoming trip to Palm Springs to meet with city council members from across the state.

Dimas pledged to refrain from any city-related travel during his final year in office, a comment that caught the ire of his colleagues.

"What a demagogue," Cornejo scoffed after the meeting. "The comments he made this evening are grandstanding and pandering to the people."

Aldaco was equally as angry. "It's ridiculous," she said.

Dimas said he will continue to "fight for the people and the employees at City Hall."

"The council is a thankless position," he said, pointing out that it pays just $500 a month. "You can't survive on this. You're away from your family. But you have to remain dedicated to this city."

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