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Political feud splinters quiet Glendora

Charges, countercharges and acrimony prevail as a former mayor leads an effort to topple the City Council. It's the latest chapter in a long fight.

December 17, 2006|Jim Newton | Times Staff Writer

Nestled unobtrusively at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, the city of Glendora hardly seems a place stewing with political controversy. Its streets are quiet, its parks plentiful, its light poles proudly decorated with names of servicemen and women fighting in Iraq.

But over the last several years, this quiet little town has waged a series of spirited, sometimes angry and sometimes frankly ludicrous debates. Acrimony often overshadows City Council meetings, and a local public-access television show has become a sort of government-in-exile by a former mayor, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney named John Harrold.

Led by Harrold, critics of the current mayor and council accuse them of bending, even breaking, the law in order to help a political benefactor, of retaliating against those who speak out and of violating state public records laws. Among their allegations: that the council earlier this year approved a rezoning and development agreement that benefited a local sprinkler and irrigation company, Rain Bird Corp., whose top official supplied most of the money that helped put those same council members in office.

City leaders vehemently deny any wrongdoing in that or any of the other areas that have sparked dissent. They instead complain about being harangued by Harrold and his allies. The result is a fractious town, sharply divided over the work of its government and facing off in bitterly opposing camps.

The effect on local politics has been unmistakable. In a little more than five years, Glendora elected one slate of leaders, then tossed them out in a recall, then brought in new ones and chewed up some of them. It has cycled through 11 council members and six mayors. Politics, says the city manager, who was hired by one faction and now works for the other, has devolved into "blood sport."

Doug Tessitor, the city's current mayor, acknowledged that his town has become a divided, sometimes nasty, place. He chiefly blames Harrold, whom he describes as "sick" and prone to leveling "charge after charge after unsubstantiated charge." On one recent afternoon, Tessitor watched a recording of one of Harrold's shows, shaking his head in wonder as he was derided as "incompetent" and "a crook" atop a "culture of corruption."

"There," he said, as the program was paused. "You get the idea."

Harrold, who served for three years as mayor before being ousted, fires right back. "A group of insiders has great influence at City Hall," he said. "I disrupted that."

"These guys," another resident, Gil Aguirre, said of the current council, "don't like to be challenged."

The current struggles for power in the 52,000-resident town on the edge of Los Angeles County date roughly to the late 1990s, when advocates of slower growth and open government united to begin running candidates for office. In 1999, two of those candidates won seats on the five-member council. That attracted some concerned interest from local developers, and their worries were realized two years later when two more candidates advocating slower growth won their campaigns.

The new council majority worked quickly to consolidate its power, replacing a number of city commissioners and officials. And then the counterrevolution began. Alarmed by what others viewed as a purge, council critics launched a recall. Tessitor was picked to oversee campaign finances.

He and other recall supporters turned, as many in Glendora have in recent years, to Arthur Ludwick. Heir to Glendora's leading business, Rain Bird Corp., Ludwick has deep pockets and an abiding interest in Glendora civic life. His name and that of his wife grace the new wing of a local hospital, and his philanthropy has extended to other community projects as well. So when recall supporters needed cash to support their effort, they reached out to Ludwick. He and his wife produced. They donated, lent or otherwise supplied more than $125,000 toward the effort. They were, by far, the biggest contributors to the campaign.

The recall prevailed, casting out three members of the council -- including Harrold -- and replacing them with three others. The next year, another election brought Tessitor to office.

Once in place, the new council was presented with a development proposal that involved Ludwick. Rain Bird was interested in selling a large parcel of land in Glendora, and William Lyon Homes agreed to develop it. For that project to proceed, however, the land needed to be rezoned to allow residential development.

Last Jan. 24, the City Council approved the rezoning and the development agreement. The vote was 4 to 0, with one council member abstaining because he lived close to the development area. Of the four votes in favor, three were from council members involved in the recall -- two who won office directly as a result and Tessitor, who helped organize the campaign.

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