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Officials in South Gate Quarrel Over Measures


In a boisterous escalation of political fighting in South Gate, the City Council enacted measures Thursday that infuriated police, upset the city clerk and prompted some citizens to jeer, boo and heckle.

After two walked out in protest, the remaining three council members voted to reinforce state rules that forbid public employees from political campaigning while on the job and to ask the city's electorate to dramatically reduce the salary of the city clerk.

Adding to the ruckus, Mayor Raul Moriel, Vice Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba and Councilwoman Maria Benavides, the majority in attendance, were served with recall petitions at the meeting by leaders of the city's two police unions.

The unions and other are upset over what they describe as the city's "sham" selection process of the next deputy police chief, who they believe will be a political ally of the council majority.

Two council members, Hector De La Torre and Henry C. Gonzalez, refused to stay at the hastily called special meeting. Before walking out, De La Torre declared that there was nothing of urgency on the agenda that couldn't wait until Monday's regular meeting. He said he believed the session violated the state Brown Act's rules on open public meetings because he did not receive official paperwork on time.

Replicating state laws, the remaining three council members approved ordinances preventing city employees, including police, from campaigning for elections on city time or while in uniform.

Critics said that action was meant to intimidate them and squelch their free speech as they launch the recall drive. Lt. Martin Van Lierop, a union leader, said the police are not opposed to the codes, but it is useless to repeat them.

Moriel said the timing is not tied to the recall drive but "has been on our minds for quite some time."

The council also acted to put before the voters a measure to dramatically reduce City Clerk Carmen Avalos' salary from about $4,000 a month to $600, which is what council members and the city treasurer earn.

Avalos and her supporters said the vote was a retaliatory action because Avalos defeated the vice mayors's sister in the last election. Moriel denied that, saying that putting the pay reduction before voters is "a parity issue."

De La Torre said council actions are "fake issues" and a ploy to deflect attention from the recall effort.


Times staff writer Richard Marosi contributed to this article.

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