He has openly questioned Calemine's management style, and pressed for more board control and public scrutiny of the panel's actions. One of the more controversial decisions made by Calemine, without board approval, was his recent hiring of Sandor L. Winger as his top assistant--a new position created to help move along the secession study.
Winger, who is married to a top Bernson aide and a longtime friend of Bernson and Calemine, has no prior LAFCO experience. The job pays $60,000 a year.
"This gets at the way this agency operates," Yaroslavsky said. "It has been run this way a long time, because no one pays attention. Outside the public eye, they run this thing like a mom-and-pop store, and they can't do that anymore. They're playing in the big leagues now, with big money and big issues."
Bernson did not respond to requests for comment.
Azusa Mayor Christina Cruz--Madrid, who serves as a LAFCO alternate, was the first to publicly question how Winger could have been hired without discussion or a candidate search. After a closed session last week in which the panel debated how Winger was hired, and whether he should be fired, he was kept on.
"I'm not comfortable with the way this was done," said Cruz-Madrid, who added she was not aware that Calemine, Bernson and Winger were friends until told by a reporter. "This is a public agency; we are spending taxpayer money, and we have to be able to withstand scrutiny."
Calemine said he hired Winger--who has worked as a consultant to Bernson and others and serves as chairman of a Van Nuys Airport advisory committee--because he has known Winger personally for many years and "knew how he handled things." Winger, Bernson and Calemine were all involved in an organization that campaigned unsuccessfully for Valley secession two decades ago.
"I did not need someone from a planning department," Calemine said. "I needed somebody who had some experience working with governmental agencies, somebody who knew how to bring people to the table and get things done.
"If anyone knows Sandy, they know he is a professional," Calemine said. "Whether he is friends with Hal Bernson, or Zev Yaroslavsky, or anyone else on the board, I don't really know how that matters."
For his part, Winger said he is qualified for the post.
"Absolutely," he said. "I have the particular background suited for this job."
When The Times asked Calemine for a copy of Winger's resume, however, Winger intervened, and Calemine refused to provide it.
Calemine served side by side as an alternate LAFCO board member with many of the current panelists, including Bernson and Jackson, the LAFCO chairman, before they appointed him in 1995 to the $75,000-a-year executive director's job. He was initially disqualified from the job in 1993 over a conflict of interest because he was still serving on the board at the time he was being considered.
Although he has a distaste for the way LAFCO continues to conduct business, Yaroslavsky said it is "a little premature" to conclude the secession study will be a victim of delays.
Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close, an attorney who also serves as an alternate LAFCO member, agreed, but said there is reason for concern.
"Selecting the consultant is taking longer than it should, longer than I had hoped," Close said. "I hope it's not an indication of things to come. It's reasonable to assume that the city will stall, and LAFCO will need to push the city. Someone may also have to push LAFCO to make sure this is not studied ad nauseam."