SACRAMENTO — Assembly Speaker Willie Brown handed out one of his juiciest plums Tuesday, naming the wife of a lame-duck Democratic assemblyman from San Diego to a $95,403-per-year post on a little-known board responsible for handling garbage disposal.
Brown is a likely lame duck himself, given that Democrats apparently lost control of the lower house in the Nov. 8 election. With Republicans holding a 41-39 majority in the Assembly, Brown stands to lose the speakership after 14 years Dec. 5 when the new Legislature is seated.
With less than two weeks before the Republicans take control of the lower house and a new Speaker is elected, Brown named Janet Lee Gotch, wife of outgoing Assemblyman Mike Gotch, to the state Integrated Waste Management Board.
A statement issued by Brown's office gave no indication that Janet Lee Gotch has any background in waste management. She is retail manager of Freemark Abbey Wines in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, and attended Monterey Peninsula College and Mesa College, both of which are junior colleges. She declined to discuss the appointment with The Times when she was reached at the winery.
"(Brown) feels she brings something to the table as it relates to the areas that the board deals with," said Darolyn Davis, Brown's press aide.
The six-member Integrated Waste Management Board is one of the few boards in state government that pays members more than $90,000 a year. Created while George Deukmejian was governor, it is responsible for substantially reducing the amount of garbage generated in California. The board also has control over the location of new garbage dumps. The governor and Senate Rules Committee make other appointments to the board.
Democratic Assemblyman Gotch was first elected to the Assembly from San Diego in 1990. A month after he was elected to his second term in 1992, Gotch rented out his house in San Diego and moved to the Napa Valley, where he bought a home and now resides.
In San Diego, Gotch was criticized for living 500 miles from the voters who elected him, and decided not to seek reelection for a third term this year. He did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Janet Lee Gotch's appointment requires no confirmation and lasts until Jan. 1, 1998. The appointment came as a surprise because Gotch, who had little impact in the Assembly, was not among Brown's close allies. Brown had been rumored to be considering the appointment of outgoing Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) to the post.
"He has been Speaker too long to give up the reins quickly," said Ruth Holton of Common Cause of California. "As long as he is in charge, he is going to continue to dispense such favors."
Unlike the governor, the Speaker makes relatively few appointments that pay salaries. But as Speaker, Brown has made a practice of giving his half a dozen paying jobs to his legislative allies.
Brown appointees have included former San Francisco Mayor and Assemblyman Art Agnos, former Assemblywoman Sally Tanner of El Monte, former Assemblyman Tom Bane of the San Fernando Valley, and former Assemblywoman Sunny Mojonnier of San Diego.
Janet Lee Gotch will replace Kathy Neal on the board. Neal is a businesswoman with a master's degree in public administration who also is wife of Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, a former Democratic assemblyman.
Brown, Harris and Neal were partners in the ownership of Oakland radio station KDIA. They recently sold the station to Bay Area entrepreneur James Gabbert for $3 million, almost double what they paid for it two years ago.