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City Does About-Face on Recall

Voting: After months of defiance, South Gate will seek county oversight of its special elections.

June 12, 2002|RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One day after Secretary of State Bill Jones announced legislation that would force South Gate to relinquish control of recall elections for two years, the City Council voted Monday night to consider letting the county take over the process.

The move represents a reversal for the ruling council majority, which for three months has defied Jones' order to cede control.

Jones accuses members of the majority of manipulating the electoral process to block a recall drive targeting them. City leaders deny the charges and flew to Sacramento on Tuesday to argue that the bill would set a bad precedent in denying the rights of local governments.

"Think about it: You are contemplating doing something that is contrary to democratic principles favoring local control," said Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Ruvalcaba told lawmakers that the Jones legislation is a "moot point" because the city now intends to allow county oversight of recall elections.

But critics call the abrupt about-face a cynical ploy to foil the pending bill. Many suspect the council will back out of any deal to give up control of recall elections if the legislation is dropped.

The council's change of heart "sounds too good to be true," recall supporter Pascual Cervera told the council. "I think you have something up your sleeve ... but I can't pinpoint it."

A spokesman for the secretary of state said Jones plans to proceed with the legislation, which passed its first test Tuesday, when it was unanimously approved by an Assembly committee.

The bill, which would require South Gate to give the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office control of recall elections for two years, now goes to the Assembly floor.

Council opponents say they have gathered enough signatures to get a recall election on the ballot but must first win a court battle with the city. Recall organizers accuse members of the council majority and the city treasurer of corruption, a charge those officials deny.

The recall battle is developing against a backdrop of escalating tensions in this crisis-racked city. Monday's council meeting degenerated into the usual catcalls and insults aimed at leaders. "Bye, crooks," yelled one man after being kicked out by Ruvalcaba.

The council also took heat over revelations that the city's trial specialist, Cristeta Paguirigan, is a disbarred attorney and convicted embezzler. Despite that criticism, the council authorized more work for her law firm, asking it to negotiate an agreement with county officials on the election takeover.

Treasurer Albert Robles said Paguirigan deserves a second chance. "I believe in the power of forgiveness, redemption and reformation," he said. "I think we have to give people an opportunity to change their lives."

But others pointed out that Paguirigan pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges as recently as April, and she faces a three-year prison term if she doesn't repay several victims by October.

"A city should not be dealing with a firm that hires a convicted felon to work in the city," said Bill De Witt, a former councilman.

While De Witt stayed within the three-minute limit for speeches, those who didn't were tossed out by Ruvalcaba, who has recently tightened her enforcement of the rules of public decorum.

Elected and appointed officials are not spared.

Ruvalcaba cut off Deputy Police Chief Tommy Tunson in mid-sentence while he was protesting an unusual move forcing all officers, including police brass, to wear uniforms.

She pulled the microphone plug--literally--on City Clerk Carmen Avalos, who protested being shortchanged on her speaking time.

City officials claim the rules are necessary to maintain order.

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