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Council 1 Vote Short of Upholding City Clerk's Firing

June 02, 1993|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A sharply divided Los Angeles City Council fell one vote short Tuesday of upholding the firing of City Clerk Elias (Lee) Martinez on sexual harassment allegations, but several council members said they expect to have the votes today to terminate the 32-year city employee.

Councilmen Michael Woo and Joel Wachs, both of whom missed Tuesday's vote, have said they expect to attend today's session--with Woo widely expected by his colleagues to cast the deciding vote.

Woo was busy campaigning for mayor and declined, through his spokeswoman, to comment on the issue because it is a personnel matter that is being discussed in closed sessions. But press deputy Julie Jaskol rejected allegations by Wachs that Woo wanted to duck a vote on the Martinez matter.

"All I can say is that Michael Woo has been the strongest voice on the City Council against sexual harassment," Jaskol said.

Other council members suggested that the one actually trying to avoid the issue was Wachs, who had not previously expressed a position on the matter.

That was just the beginning of what became a testy closed-door meeting in which several council members and others exchanged barbs, observers said.

The closeness of the vote to remove Martinez came as a surprise, several council members said, because the lawmakers had been struggling to reach a consensus on the issue for more than four months.

Several council members made it clear from the start of the discussions that they felt termination was too strict a punishment for Martinez. But Mayor Tom Bradley's office, which recommended the firing, accused the City Council of dragging its feet.

Martinez, 54, has been accused of fondling one office worker on three occasions and of leering at and making suggestive comments to several others. He has steadfastly denied the allegations, saying that they were overblown or based on misunderstandings.

The veteran clerk, who began his career in the City Hall garage 32 years ago, also has said that Bradley ordered his firing in political retaliation. Martinez had allowed a measure to be placed on the ballot over Bradley's objections that reduced the mayor's powers over city boards and commissions.

According to those familiar with Tuesday's private session, council members Joy Picus, Ruth Galanter, Zev Yaroslavsky, Ernani Bernardi, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rita Walters and Marvin Braude voted to fire Martinez. Voting against termination were council members John Ferraro, Richard Alatorre, Mike Hernandez, Joan Milke Flores and Hal Bernson.

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