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Residents Dismayed By Wachs' Absences

City Hall: The councilman has spent much of the last few months in New York.

July 21, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

City Councilman Joel Wachs may still be on the city payroll, but you wouldn't know it, some constituents say, by his absence from Los Angeles City Hall in recent weeks.

Since announcing two months ago that he would quit in October, the Studio City resident has missed 13 of 19 council meetings, drawing criticism in and out of City Hall.

Wachs continues to draw a full salary of $133,000 annually, even though he is spending much of his time in New York preparing to take over as head of the Andy Warhol Foundation. "I'm extraordinarily disappointed," said Carol Silver, a constituent in Wachs' 2nd Council District and former president of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce. "It isn't kosher. The man has campaigned for mayor as a fiscal watchdog."

Tony Lucente, president of the Studio City Residents Assn., also voiced frustration, noting that residents have been disappointed to get a recorded message on occasion when calling Wachs' office.

"People have had a more difficult time gaining access to his office," Lucente said. "Joel made a decision to leave in October and certainly he should be here working until then."

Even some of Wachs' colleagues have started grumbling, both privately and publicly. "He should announce he is leaving now so we can have an election for that district," said Councilman Nate Holden. "It is not being represented now. It's a disservice."

Holden said if Wachs had left office immediately, he could have saved taxpayers some of the $560,000 required to call a special election.

An election could have been combined with the special election Sept. 11 for the 4th District seat, vacated upon the death of John Ferraro.

Others said the 30-year veteran of the City Council is due some time away from City Hall as he prepares to head the New York City-based foundation. "I don't begrudge him some time off," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.

Aides said Wachs, who missed all three council meetings this week while in New York, was out of town Friday afternoon and not available for comment.

However, chief of staff Greg Nelson refuted the complaint he, too, has heard around City Hall that Wachs has already checked out.

"I've heard people say those things. No way," Nelson said. "He is going to be here. We have a legislative agenda we want to pursue until October."

Wachs left for New York on May 30, the day he announced he had accepted the foundation job, and missed meetings that week and the next week.

On June 14, Wachs left for Italy to attend a government leadership conference on planning issues, Nelson said. He returned two weeks later on June 28.

"It's an annual thing he goes to, and he had planned it long before his resignation," Nelson said.

Wachs was back in town long enough to vote to elect Councilman Alex Padilla as the new council president, attending council meetings on July 3, 10 and 11, then headed back to New York, missing council meetings July 13, Tuesday, Wednesday and again Friday.

The absence of Wachs and three other council members on Friday meant the panel lacked the 12 votes to approve ordinances.

In addition, the council delayed action on a $750-million contract for street furniture. Asked why Wachs was in New York all week, Nelson said, "because he is moving to New York. That's what's going on. It's not an easy thing to do to move to New York. There is a lot of stuff to do."

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