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Council Asserts More Control : Monterey Park: The city's action to deal with commission squabbles comes after another round of testimony in which the library board president was condemned for her criticism of a trustee's Chinese accent.

August 11, 1994|KEVIN UHRICH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MONTEREY PARK — After a second round of public testimony condemning Library Board President Kathleen Brzozowski for her criticism of another trustee's Chinese accent, the City Council has voted to assert more authority over squabbles on city commissions.

The decision Monday came as the council acknowledged it had few options to settle a racially charged dispute between Brzozowski and trustee Marina Tse because the library board is independent of council control. The Brzozowski-Tse dispute was sparked by the forced resignation of Jeanette Cheng, the city's first Chinese American librarian.

Cheng was asked to resign last April and accepted a $60,000 severance package to step down. But because of her lone opposition to Cheng's resignation, Tse claimed Brzozowski and other board members were attempting to use a city law on absences to get her off the board.

The city's so-called "three absences" ordinance allows the library board and other citizen committees to remove members after three unexcused absences.

Brzozowski denied the allegation by Tse. But her additional comments about Tse's accent, attendance record and ability to serve on the board sparked criticism from community and civil rights groups and calls for a public apology and Brzozowski's resignation.

On Monday, the criticism continued. "Racism has again reared its ugly head and this time it is in the form of Kathleen Brzozowski," said Gay Wong, a community activist who is a professor of language and literacy development.

The council moved into one part of the dispute, agreeing to amend the "three absences" ordinance with the clause "subject to council approval."

"I want to make it clear that there has to be a higher level of authority" in administering city boards, said Mayor Judy Chu.

Brzozowski and Tse did not attend Monday's council meeting. Tse is out of town and could not be reached for comment. Brzozowski left Tuesday on a city-sponsored junket to Monterey Park's sister cities in Taiwan and China and also could not be reached for comment. Chu also is a member of that delegation.

"It's made the trip real difficult," Chu said after the Monday meeting.

Last week, Tse's supporters packed the library board's monthly meeting. The issue of Brzozowski's comments was not on the board agenda, however, and trustees were prohibited by state law from taking any action despite demands by several Chinese American and Latino civil rights leaders.

A personal plea by Tse also did not prompt Brzozowski to apologize.

"I have never used such terms as 'racist' and I am not critical of anybody's accent," Brzozowski said during the board's meeting.

But the day before that meeting, Brzozowski told a reporter Tse's accent makes her disruptive at meetings. Brzozowski also did not deny telling The Times: Tse "seems to have a problem understanding English."

Tse is a highly honored special education teacher who received her master's degree from the University of Southern California and has taught English as a Second Language for the past 17 years. She was recently appointed to the state Special Education Commission by Gov. Pete Wilson.

"My language is not only sufficient, I have mastered it," Tse said last week.

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