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Recall Election Leader Issues Call for Unity

May 13, 1999

BELL GARDENS — One day after Bell Gardens voters removed the council majority, the leader of the recall drive said Wednesday she expects an end to the bitter feuding that has split the city into warring factions.

"I have faith that someday we can all work together," said Councilwoman Maria Chacon, the controversial activist who helped launch the recall drive against three other council members.

Voters decided Tuesday by an overwhelming margin to recall Mayor Joaquin Penilla, Mayor Pro Tem David Torres and Councilman Salvador Rios. Voters replaced them with a slate of candidates endorsed by Chacon and Parents United for Justice: Pedro Aceituno, Teresa Cabrera and Rogelio S. Rodriguez.

Penilla said he will ask for a recount.

The recall may prompt some key staff changes in the city.

In January, Penilla, Torres and Rios voted to remove City Atty. Arnoldo Beltran and City Clerk Ronald Hart without stating a reason. Chacon contended that the council majority made the staff change to fight or delay the recall.

Now that the council majority has been ousted, Chacon said the new council may consider rehiring Beltran and Hart. "We are going to do whatever is best for the city," she said.

City Hall insiders say the recall may also jeopardize the tenure of Police Chief Fredrick Freeman, who arrested Chacon on suspicion of disrupting a council meeting last year after she and the chief got into an argument after a typically volatile council meeting. The district attorney's office declined to file charges against Chacon.

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