Selected articles regarding the City of Rosemead

This website provides selected articles relating to the City of Rosemead, California:

1. Former Rosemead Mayor John Tran sentenced to 21 months in prison
2. Ex-Rosemead mayor John Tran pleads guilty in corruption case; faces 18 to 24 months in prison
3. Ex-mayor of Rosemead admits guilt in bribery case
4. Former Rosemead mayor agrees to plead guilty to bribery
5. Taylor leaves Rosemead council after nearly four decades
6. Council sweeps out entire planning commission
7. Rosemead city manager fired, replaced with former city employee
8. City Manager Chi could be on the outs in Rosemead
9. New council sworn in amidst legal challenge
10. Armenta win confirmed in Rosemead
11. Rosemead votes out Tran, Nunez
12. Tran, Nunez appear to have been swept out of office in Rosemead
13. Our View: Bring balance to Rosemead council
14. Development to dominate Rosemead council election
15. Charter city supporters say confusion doomed measure
16. Council approves divisive plan for population and commercial growth
17. Rosemead voting compliance under review
18. Mayor outpaces all others in money for City Council race
19. Rosemead working on balanced budget
20. Bills almost double city legal budget
21. Council race will be heated
22. Sorry, is that an apology?
23. Rosemead councilman apologizes for his "old-school" ways
24. Rosemead's city attorney already $43,000 over his budget
25. Tran to stay on as mayor; Nunez turns down Rosemead position
26. Council asks for Garcia's legal bills; City attorney said to be four months behind
27. City plan scrutinized; High-density projects, too many developers draw residents' ire
28. Casting a pall over Rosemead
29. Harassment suit over; accusations still linger
30. Rosemead officials deny Nunez harassment charges covered up
31. Notes detail alleged misconduct; Investigator: More than 20 report Nunez involved
32. Nunez asked to step down; Residents upset over harassment suit settlement
33. $330K settlement looms in suit against Rosemead councilman
34. Nearby construction worries mobile home park residents
35. Mayor asks for mailers probe' Councilwoman calls request `totally bogus'
36. Rosemead residents flock to meeting
37. As city's legal fees rise, confusion persists; Rosemead reviews law firms' contracts
38. City's views on new Wal-Mart improve
39. Travel tally; City expense budgets range from frugal to generous
40. Workers claim City Hall is hostile to employees
41. Council votes to report member
42. Report: Workers in hostile setting; Councilman calling for expanded inquiry
43. Wal-Mart supporters to stay active; Group getting early start on '09 elections
44. Claremont loses two staff members
45. City Hall roll call continues to change
46. Attorney fees remain high
47. Council to get reports in sex harassment case
48. Mayor criticized on agenda request; Discussion on final discretion for Tran postponed
49. Conflict of interest in school deal?
50. Sexual harassment report could be released

For earlier articles regarding the City of Rosemead, see page 2 of and page 3 of

Former Rosemead Mayor John Tran sentenced to 21 months in prison

By Ruby Gonzales

LOS ANGELES – Former Rosemead Mayor John Tran was sentenced Monday to 21 months in federal prison for instructing a real estate developer to tell a grand jury she hadn’t met with him and didn’t give him money and for lying to the FBI.

U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer also sentenced Tran to three years supervised release. He also cannot run for office without getting permission from probation during his supervised release.

The court ordered him to pay restitution of about $38,000 to the developer, which is the amount of bribes the government alleged he took from the developer. The FBI has the $35,000 he already repaid the developer.

Fischer said Tran’s criminal conduct spanned six years. Anytime along the way, she said he could have returned to the law abiding person he was. She said he betrayed the citizens of Rosemead then committed another betrayal by witness tampering and lying to the FBI.

Before he was sentenced, Tran addressed the court. He apologized to the judge,his family and his supporters.

“The past three years I have been living in a nightmare. I felt the whole world has turned its back against me.”

He said he didn’t want to be in public, felt useless and alone. Tran said he was used to people coming up to him and shaking his hand. In a flash, people didn’t want anything to do with him.

”I made a mistake. A mistake I continue to pay for,” he said.

His family continues to live with his mistake, he added. He said he knows it will not happen again and that he would fully accept the judge’s sentence.

Tran took a deal last year and pleaded guilty on Nov. 18, 2013 to one felony count of attempted witness tampering by corrupt persuasion and one felony count of making a false statement to the FBI.

As part of the plea agreement, the other charges of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, two counts of extortion and two counts of attempted witness tampering by corrupt persuasion were dismissed Monday. Tran had faced a sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison.

He will surrender himself Oct. 20.

San Gabriel Valley Tribunte, July 21, 2014

Ex-Rosemead mayor John Tran pleads guilty in corruption case; faces 18 to 24 months in prison

By Ruby Gonzales

Former Rosemead Mayor John Tran took a plea deal Monday that will enable him to avoid prosecution for bribery and extortion, the United States Attorney’s Office said. Tran, also a former El Monte Union High School District board member, pleaded guilty to two felonies, attempted witness tampering by corrupt persuasion and making a false statement to the FBI. As part of the deal, federal prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison when Tran is sentenced April 28 in a Los Angeles court. He also will be fined and must pay about $38,000 in restitution, which is the total amount of the bribes the government accused Tran of taking from a local real estate developer.

Without the deal, Tran could have faced more than 25 years in prison.

He was indicted earlier this year for allegedly accepting bribes from a real estate developer identified in court documents at “T.W.”

Tran’s attorney, Michael Zweiback, said Tuesday the government already has received the restitution money. Tran faces a maximum fine of $500,000 but Zweiback expects him to receive a much lower fine.

He said his client took the plea deal because it’s no longer a case about bribery and extortion.

“It’s about statements he made to an informant and the FBI during a grand jury investigation,” Zweiback said. He added that the investigation was started by an allegation of bribery.

Zweiback said he didn’t think Tran would withdraw this plea, as he did after pleading guilty to bribery in March of 2012. He asked the court in August 2012 to allow him to withdraw that plea, and a judge ruled in his favor in December.

“The government made him a fair and reasonable offer on a case which we believe was overcharged,” Zweiback said of Tran’s Monday plea.

Elisa Fernandez, an assistant U.S. Attorney with the Criminal Division’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, said the other felony counts against Tran will be dismissed at his sentencing. She pointed out that Tran pleaded guilty to two felony counts.

“I don’t want you to underestimate the seriousness of the charges he is pleading to, “ she said. “It’s very serious to obstruct justice.”

Lawrence Middleton, who is chief of the Criminal Division’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, handled the case.

“Ms. Fernandez has said everything about the case. We filed the plea agreement. It’s public record and beyond that, I have no comment,” Middleton said.

The witness Tran tried to tamper with is the developer identified at “T.W.” The witness bought a vacant lot in Rosemead and went to Rosemead City Hall in 2005 to obtain permits to construct an office building, according to court documents.

T.W. met Tran there. According to documents filed by the U.S. Attorney, Tran and two other city employees suggested T.W. build a mixed-use project instead of the office building. They also recommended buying the adjacent vacant lot, which T.W. did.

Prosecutors said Tran later visited T.W,’s office and asked to “borrow” $3,000, mentioning that he had helped the developer with the project.

T.W. gave Tran four payments totaling about $38,000 between 2005 and 2007 in exchange for a promise to help get permits, according to court documents.

The city never approved the project and Tran failed to win re-election to the council in 2009, losing by a single vote.

T.W. told the FBI in 2009 that Tran was loaned money in exchange for his promise to help get permits for the construction project, according to the plea agreement.

A superseding indictment dated March 2013 charged Tran with bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, two counts of extortion, three counts of attempted witness tampering by corrupt persuasion and one count of making a false statement to a government agency, the FBI.

He admitted to one count of the attempted witness tampering charge. According to the plea agreement, he met the witness, identified only as T.W.,at a Starbucks in Pasadena around 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2011. The meeting was under surveillance by the FBI. It was recorded and photographed.

T.W. showed Tran a document that appeared to be a grand jury subpoena and told him T.W. needed to testify before a grand jury. The FBI had given the witness the document. Tran instructed T.W. to tell the grand jury that T.W. had not met with him recently and hadn’t given him money.

“Defendant acted with corrupt intent that he intended that T.W. provide false information to a federal grand jury,” the plea agreement showed.

Tran also admitted to lying to the FBI during an interview at his home on Sept. 27, 2011.

“During the interview, the defendant falsely stated and represented that T.W. had not made any payments to him other than campaign contributions of probably a $1,000 to $2,000. Defendant acted willfully in that he knowingly and intentionally provided false information to the FBI,” according to the plea agreement.

“The false statements were material to the FBI’s investigation into whether (Tran) had accepted bribes from, or had extorted T.W.”

Tran was elected to the Rosemead City Council in 2005 and served as mayor from 2007 to 2009, according to court documents.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, November 19, 2013

Ex-mayor of Rosemead admits guilt in bribery case

John Tran, 36, admits to shaking down a developer for more than $10,000 while on the City Council. He also resigns from the school board and withdraws from an Assembly race.

By Abby Sewell

A former Rosemead city official who made a run for state Assembly has agreed to plead guilty to soliciting and accepting more than $10,000 in bribes from a developer.

John Tran, 36, an El Monte Union High School District board member and former Rosemead mayor and councilman, admitted shaking down a developer who was trying to build a mixed-use office and residential project in Rosemead while he was on the council, according to a federal plea agreement made public Friday.

The developer, who was not named in the court documents, had bought a vacant lot for $1.1 million and planned to build offices. At the request of Tran and two city employees, however, the developer agreed to buy an adjacent lot for $700,000 and build a mixed-use project.

Between 2005 and 2007, while project approvals were pending, Tran would periodically visit the developer, who eventually became a confidential informant in the federal investigation, and demand money, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

During that period, the developer gave Tran $10,000 in cash payments and a check for $3,200 made out to "cash," according to the plea agreement.

At one point, officials said, the developer asked why Tran had done nothing in exchange for the bribes, and Tran said he had done "this" — pointing to a staff report and preliminary design approval that suggested the project was moving forward in the approval process.

After August 2007, the developer refused to give any more payments to Tran, according to the agreement. In 2009, Tran was voted out of office; and the project, which became the subject of the federal investigation, never received final approval.

Before he was charged, Tran had thrown his hat in the ring for the 49th Assembly District seat being vacated by termed-out Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park). Tran's attorney, Michael Zweiback, said Tran is now withdrawing his candidacy and submitted his resignation to the school board Friday.

"John understands that his elected position and public service is over," Zweiback said. "He's done a lot of good things for the community, and he wanted to spare his constituents and his family the pain of a long trial."

A biography on Tran's campaign website touts his achievements on the City Council and says that as a school board member "he has worked to establish reforms focused on rooting out corruption in the school district."

Rosemead's current mayor, Steven Ly, who won office in the election in which Tran lost his seat by a single vote, said that many community members had suspected Tran of pay-to-play politics before the criminal charges emerged. But Ly said the city has changed under the new council.

"I feel that we've done a good job of cleaning house since his period of time," the mayor said.

A representative of a company that may have been the one involved in the federal investigation has filed a claim against the city in an attempt to recover funds taken by Tran, Ly said. The council voted last month to reject the claim. A representative of the company could not be reached for comment.

In exchange for Tran's guilty plea, the U.S. attorney's office will not pursue additional charges of extortion and obstruction of justice, Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph N. Akrotirianakis said.

Tran faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2012

Former Rosemead mayor agrees to plead guilty to bribery

A former Rosemead city official now running for a state Assembly seat has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of soliciting and accepting more than $10,000 in bribes from a developer.

John Tran, a current El Monte Union High School District board member and former mayor and councilman in Rosemead, admitted shaking down a developer who was trying to build a mixed-use office and residential project in Rosemead while he was on the council, according to a federal plea agreement made public Friday.

Between 2005 and 2007, while project approvals were pending, Tran would periodically visit the unnamed developer, who eventually became a confidential informant in the federal investigation, and demand money, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

During that period, the developer gave Tran $10,000 in cash payments and a check for $3,200 made out to "cash," according to the plea agreement.

At one point, the contractor asked why Tran had done nothing in exchange for the bribes, and Tran said he had done "this" and pointed to a staff report and preliminary design approval that suggested the project was moving forward in the approval process.

After August 2007, the developer refused to give any more payments to Tran. In 2009, Tran was voted out of office and the project never received final approval.

Tran is running for the 49th Assembly District seat being vacated by termed-out Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park).

A biography on Tran's campaign website touts his achievements on the City Council and says that as a school board member he has worked to establish reforms focused on rooting out corruption in the school district.

In exchange for Tran's guilty plea, the U.S. attorney's office will not pursue additional charges of extortion and obstruction of justice.

Tran faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for the bribery charge.

Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2012

Taylor leaves Rosemead council after nearly four decades

By Rebecca Kimitch, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - If it seems like Mayor Gary Taylor has been leading Rosemead since the city's beginning, that's because he nearly has.

Taylor has sat on the City Council for 37 years, taking his seat 15 years after Rosemead was incorporated.

And now, after becoming one of the longest-serving councilmen in the region, he is in his final weeks on the dais. He has decided not to run for re-election next month.

"I was shocked when I heard he was leaving - waves of nostalgia came over me," said Councilman Steven Ly. "He has been a fixture in Rosemead most of his life, as well as most of the life of Rosemead."

Ly, who at age 26 was born a decade after Taylor began serving, said his legacy will live on. He credits Taylor with helping develop Rosemead's culture of fiscal austerity. While other cities have faced deep deficits as a result of the recession, Rosemead has maintained a reserve.

"He brought a lot of stability to the city over those years," agreed Councilwoman Maggie Clark, who served with Taylor for two decades.

Taylor was also known for voting precisely as he thought fit after scrutinizing everything on a council agenda, sometimes to the extreme minutia.

"You could always count on him to vote no if he felt like it. You never knew exactly what he would do. He didn't feel any need to go along with the majority," Clark said.

Taylor began building that legacy from day one.

When he first ran for office in 1974, the then-33-year-old candidate was quoted as saying: "People have not been kept completely informed of governmental actions taken by the council. The people must have open government, not decision- making behind closed doors."

That call for openness has defined his tenure on the council to this day. He is famous in the city for bringing his own tape recorder to every meeting, ensuring that every word is recorded, and scrutinizing council minutes to guarantee they accurately reflect the council words to the public.

But that openness has not extended to the press, and he is also known for not responding to interview requests. In characteristic fashion, the father of nine did not respond to calls for this effort in 2005 and 2006. The recall ultimately failed. Taylor was re-elected the following year, though his colleague who also faced recall, Jay Imperial, was not.

Clark said residents have supported Taylor time and again because they trust him.

"They knew he had the best interests of the city in mind," she said.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, February 14, 2011

Council sweeps out entire planning commission

ROSEMEAD - The City Council voted Tuesday to replace all five members of the Planning Commission because of their support last year of controversial planning changes in the city.

The change marks the latest move by the city council, elected in March, to remove all traces of the former council majority.

Members voted to place Nancy Eng, William Alarcon, Diana Herrera, Victor Ruiz and Joan Hunter on the commission.

The terms of the current five commissioners will be up June 1. Commissioners Daniel Lopez, Todd Kunioka, and Allan Vuu had had applied to be renamed to the commission but were denied because of their support last September of a controversial new general plan - a blueprint for development - in the city, Mayor Maggie Clark said.

Council members also objected to the current commission's vote last November to allow a chicken slaughterhouse to continue operating in the city, Clark said. The council later reversed that decision.

Though new, the new commission is experienced, Clark said.

Alarcon has served on the city council and the planning commission; Herrera has served on the planning commission; Hunter has served on the traffic commission and as president of the Rosemead Chamber of Commerce; Ruiz has served on the traffic commission and has worked on county public works projects; and Eng has served as a neighborhood watch captain and on the Garvey School Board bond oversite committee.

The planning commission will be tasked this year with revising the new general plan. Though the plan was approved last year, the new council majority has vowed to change it because of concerns that it will increase the city's population.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, May 28, 2009

Rosemead city manager fired, replaced with former city employee

ROSEMEAD -- The recently elected city council fired city manager Oliver Chi Tuesday night, with council members asserting they were responding to the will of voters in the March 3 election.

The council voted to replace Chi with Jeffrey Stewart, a former Rosemead employee and former city manager of El Segundo, as interim city manager.

"We need a new direction. The voters spoke clearly on the direction they want the city to go," Mayor Maggie Clark said.

Councilwoman Polly Low was the only dissenting vote in the 4-1 decision to oust Chi.

"I really have seen Oliver in action make so many improvements... he got caught in the political crossfire," Low said. "It will take time for the city to get momentum back."

Chi will be given a severance package amounting to more than $334,000.

Asked if that price was worth terminating Chi, Clark said, "yes, to get a new direction, yes."

Some residents viewed Chi as an ally of former mayor John Tran, who lost his seat in the March election by a handful of votes. Chi was selected as city manager shortly after Tran was named mayor in 2007, however he had come to the city as deputy city manager a year earlier.

Despite Chi's dismissal, the mood at Tuesday's council meeting was amiable. Councilmembers Sandra Armenta and Steven Ly, who beat out Tran and former councilman John Nunez in the election, thanked Chi for his service and wished him well. Chi shook the councilmembers' hands following the vote, and said he was thankful for the opportunity to work in Rosemead.

"It's been an absolute privilege to work for the community... I anticipate they are going to have a smooth transition," he said.

With Chi gone, the fates of several other city employees could be on the line.

During Chi's tenure, the council voted to expand city staff, and Chi helped fill several positions. Clark and longtime councilman Gary Taylor both opposed that staff expansion at the time and reminded residents of those original positions during Tuesday's council meeting.

Under Chi's termination agreement, no city employees can be laid off within the next 90 days unless the council votes that the dismissals are necessary because of city finances or because the reorganization of city staff structure results in the elimination of positions.

Clark said the decision depends on the future city manager.

"It will be up to him to look into and analyze the situation," she said.

Stewart worked as assistant to the city manager and administrative services director in Rosemead for 10 years before heading to El Segundo, where he served as assistant city manager and city manager for nearly 8 years until last May.

After some discussion, the council voted to offer Stewart $100 an hour, or approximately $200,000 a year.

If he accepts the offer, Stewart's contract as interim city manager would be for no more than 1000 hours, or approximately 6 months. Several councilmembers expressed interest in hiring him permanently.

Chi's annual salary was $196,000, including benefits.

Low abstained from supporting Stewart's selection or contract because she said she had just received his resume and had never met him.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, April 8, 2009

City Manager Chi could be on the outs in Rosemead

By Rebecca Kimitch, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The newly elected City Council already appears poised to replace City Manager Oliver Chi in one of its first actions after being sworn in two weeks ago.

The council agenda for a special meeting tonight includes a closed-session discussion with legal counsel about the city manager appointment. It is followed by a public discussion of whether to approve a contract for an interim city manager.

The agenda item reads: "It is anticipated that following the closed session the City Council may wish to consider approval of a contract for interim City Manager Services."

Chi and city council members did not return calls or did not want to comment on the council agenda.

Chi has served as city manager since August 2007 and was interim city manager for several months before that, replacing fired City Manager Andrew Lazzaretto.

At the time he was appointed to the position, Chi was 27, one of the youngest city managers in Rosemead history and one of only a handful of city managers in the West under 30.

The appointment came after a new city council majority took over in 2007, with former mayor John Tran at the helm. Tran lost in his re-election bid last month.

Tran's replacement as mayor, Margaret Clark, and long-time councilman Gary Taylor both opposed Chi's appointment at the time, citing his age and lack of experience. Tran and Councilman John Nu ez lost re-election bids in March and were replaced by Steven Ly and Sandra Armenta, both Clark allies.

Previous to becoming city manager, Chi was Rosemead deputy city manager for about a year and assistant to the city manager in Claremont for nearly two years. He received his undergraduate degree in political science from UCLA and a master's degree from USC in public administration in 2005.

Under his contract, Chi earned an annual salary of approximately $178,000.

Since the election, city attorney duties in Rosemead also have changed hands. City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia stepped down. He said in his resignation letter he was resigning "out of respect for the election process."

Whittier Daily News, April 7, 2009

New council sworn in amidst legal challenge

By Rebecca Kimitch and Jennifer McClain, Staff Writers

ROSEMEAD - The newly elected City Council was sworn-in Tuesday - despite allegations that the election that put them in office was illegal.

Former Mayor John Tran, who lost his seat by five votes, had requested a restraining order to prevent new Councilwoman Sandra Armenta from taking office. After a hearing in a Pasadena courthouse Tuesday morning, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge denied the request.

Though Armenta and the election's other winners - Councilwoman Maggie Clark and political newcomer Steven Ly - were sworn in before a packed room and a round of applause, Tran's legal challenge continues.

Armenta, the city and the county have all been named in a lawsuit contesting the election. The suit alleges that the votes of minorities in the March 3 municipal election were illegally disqualified.

The city clerk and county registrar disqualified 112 ballots with signatures that did not match voter registration forms, were not from registered voters, or were cast by voters who didn't live in the city, according to City Clerk Gloria Molleda.

Many of the disqualified ballots belonged to Vietnamese and Chinese voters, according to attorney Josh Hernandez, who is working on Tran's case with attorney Steven Baric. The attorneys say they have affidavits from some voters swearing their disqualified ballots are valid.

"Those that were disqualified were done in violation of these minority voters' rights to be counted," Hernandez said.

City elections have been under federal scrutiny since 2005 when the city was sued by the Department of Justice for failing to provide election information in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Though Tran's case is unrelated to ballot language, Hernandez said the city is under an obligation to ensure minority voters have their votes counted.

While Hernandez and Baric called the case "extraordinary" and "unusual," attorney Daniel Abramson, who is representing Armenta, said it is anything but extraordinary. It really just boils down to Tran being a sore loser, he said.

"It is a case where an incumbent council member lost an election, and not surprisingly is challenging the winner," he said after the Tuesday hearing. "We should have an orderly conduct of changeover."

Armenta is confident that future judges will rule in her favor as well.

"Knowing the judge dismissed the restraining order has really given me high hopes that whatever judge sits in on the future case will see things the same way," Armenta said. A hearing date for the election lawsuit has not been set.

Following the swearing-in Tuesday, the council elected Clark mayor and councilman Gary Taylor mayor pro tem. Clark has been mayor four times before.

Clark, Armenta and Ly immediately fulfilled a campaign promise when the council then unanimously approved a temporary ordinance prohibiting residential/commercial mixed-use development.

Councilwoman Polly Low, who typically voted with Tran over the past two years, welcomed the new members.

Despite her past alliances, she said votes on the new council would not always fall 4-1, as some might expect.

She also defended Tran, saying his intent as a leader was "misunderstood" and calling him "a tremendous leader willing to take bullets for his comrades."

After the new members were sworn in, a plaque was presented to outgoing member John Nunez. Tran was also scheduled to receive a plaque, but Nunez said he left early because of a family emergency.

The council meeting also featured congratulatory presentations to the winning candidates by members of the Garvey School Board, the Monterey Park City Council, and representatives of Assemblyman Mike Eng's office and state Sen. Gil Cedillo's office.

Pasadena Star News, March 25, 2009

Armenta win confirmed in Rosemead

By Bethania Palma Markus, Staff writer

ROSEMEAD - After a recount the final City Council election results are in - and the margin is razor-thin.

Sandra Armenta edged John Tran off the council by a mere five votes, city officials said. Tran this week asked for a recount, but a hand tally Thursday solidified Armenta's narrow victory in the March 3 municipal election.

The ousted first-time councilman is considering a legal challenge, saying some ballots were not counted because they were disqualified by the county.

"I'm weighing my options right now," he said. "There were 112 ballots that were never opened and per the election code that can be challenged."

He has until Tuesday, when the new councilmembers Armenta and fellow newcomer Steven Ly are set to be sworn in, to file his case.

The county registrar recorder disqualified 112 vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for various reasons, said City Clerk Gloria Molleda.

Some had signatures that did not match those on their voter registration form, she said. Others were disqualified because they were not registered voters, they didn't live in the city or they didn't sign their vote-by-mail ballots.

"We conducted the recount process with integrity and followed proper procedures," Molleda said. "Anyone can submit a request for a recount, so we did our part in following procedures."

Because the election results were upheld, Tran must pay for the recount process, she said. If the results were overturned, the city would have picked up the tab. The cost will include a $3,000 deposit plus lawyer fees, consultants and city staff.

Armenta, a teacher, said she was ready for Tran's challenge but thanked voters for putting her in office.

"The people spoke and they voted for who they wanted to vote for," she said. "I know I'm only five votes ahead of him, but you only need to win by one."

Maggie Clark had the most votes, with 2,247 total. Steven Ly came in second with 2,123. Armenta came in third with 2,099, trailed by Tran's 2,094.

"The city clerk did a great job coordinating the manual recount," City Manager Oliver Chi said. "It started at 9 a.m. and we didn't finish until 9:30 or 10 last night."

Incumbents Tran and John Nunez, who lost their council seats, were advocates of "smart growth," pushing for vertical, mixed-use developments along the city's main streets - creating a environment friendly to walking.

Four years ago, Tran and Nunez ran on a platform of preventing a Wal-Mart from opening in the city. But they lost the fight and the store was eventually built on Walnut Grove Avenue.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, March 21, 2009

Rosemead votes out Tran, Nunez

By Rebecca Kimitch, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - For decades the Rosemead City Council avoided major controversy. Officials kept roads paved, city services intact and the city out of the spotlight. And then along came Wal-mart. The arrival of the highly polemic mega-store caused an upheaval not often seen in Rosemead City Hall. It swept a dramatic change onto the council dais.

Four years have passed since then, and it seems voters have had enough of that dramatic change.

On Tuesday voters apparently rejected the path the city has been on by voting out Mayor John Tran and Councilman John Nunez.

Voters re-elected Margaret Clark and replaced Tran and Nunez with two of her allies: newcomers Steven Ly, an entrepreneur, and Sandra Armenta, a teacher, according to preliminary counts.

Approximately 400 provisional and mail-in ballots must still be counted. Tran trails by 111 votes.

If the preliminary results stick, Ly and Armenta will join 18-year incumbent Clark and 35-year incumbent Gary Taylor in a 4-1 majority against Councilwoman Polly Low, who still has two years on her term.

Low, Tran and Nunez recently voted into law planning change that allowed mixed-use, multi-story buildings along some the city's main streets.

The plan will probably be reversed.

Clark, for one, wants to get back the routine business of running a city.

"I hope we can be out of the headlines, I am a little tired of going to meetings and hearing `I read about you today,"' Clark said.

Just four years ago, Tran and Nunez ousted two incumbents and were the highest vote-getters in the election. The pair's campaigns were built on their objection to the building of a Wal-mart in the city.

For the first time in a long time, there were major disagreements on the council - especially about the Wal-mart, which was eventually built despite objections from Tran and Nu�ez.

Two years later, long-time incumbent Jay Imperial, who had been in office since 1978, was unseated by Tran's ally Polly Low.

Residents if a new era of Rosemead politics had begun.

Low, Tran and Nunez has a vision for a more vertical city that included high-rise condominiums, and walkable mixed-use paseos.

Clark and Taylor criticized the trio, saying the plan would massively increase population and clog the city's streets with too many residents.

Others saw the plan as a way to modernize the city's 1950s-era, low-slung development style.

"(Tran, Nunez and Low) made a real effort to be proactive and plan for the future, rather than just let things happen to Rosemead, as the council did before," said Planning Commissioner Todd Kunioka, who was appointed by the current majority.

"It may be a lesson for this election, if you just keep things quiet and don't do anything bad, Rosemead voters will send you back to office over and over again," Kunioka said.

Despite being elected as a slate, new members Ly and Armenta say they may not always agree with Clark and Taylor.

"I have nothing but the utmost respect for Gary and Maggie... but will we disagree? Yes," Ly said.

Low, too, would not predict whether she would fall on the losing side of a lot of 4-1 votes.

"I really don't know, because I don't know Steven Ly and Sandra... What is their vision of the city? Do they really want things to be back to 30 years ago like Maggie does? From the forum we had, it wasn't very clear," Low said.

All the victors said they would prioritize bringing harmony back to the city and the council.

"The first thing we need to be working on is getting the city united," Armenta said. "The message I got during the campaign was people wanted unity to come back to Rosemead."

When asked what the council will prioritize beyond this, Clark was slow to respond.

"I'll look at each project that comes before us individually," she said. "The council sets policy... We hire people to implement our visions. I will hire people that have vision, that have the expertise and we will look at what they are recommending, but I am not a micromanager."

"My vision is to keep Rosemead a bedroom community, with places to shop and eat and enjoy," she added.

Unless the council is very aggressive, any effort to attract restaurant chains may be fruitless in this economy, according to Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

"The question is if there are any businesses that want to be attracted, at this point," Stern said.

Ly, who is 23, said he'll bring plenty of youthful zeal to the council.

"I represent a generation who finished school and wanted to come back to the city we left," said the 23-year-old UCLA graduate.

While at UCLA in LA's west side, Ly saw "a different world, some of it nice, like CPK and Trader Joe's, some if it not so nice, like traffic and density."

He hopes to bring the good, while avoiding the bad.

"It's all about creating balance," he said.

Pasadena Star News, March 5, 2009

Tran, Nunez appear to have been swept out of office in Rosemead

By Ben Baeder

ROSEMEAD -- A new majority in the city could mean big changes down the road.

The six candidates faced off on two opposing slates, with future development as a central battlefront.

Maggie Clark won with 1,914 votes, according to an unofficial tally provided by the City Clerk's Office. Clark was followed by Sandra Armenta with 1,809. Armenta and Steven Ly, who had 1,790 were nearly tied all night. Three seats were up for grabs.

Mayor John Tran, who appeared to have been bounced from office, tallied 1,679. Newcomer Henry Lo and incumbent John Nunez also trailed with 1,511 and 1,280 respectively.

"I'm ecstatic, I think it's wonderful," Clark said. "I think the people want to have more control back in their hands."

Though no slate swept the elections, the balance was tipped. The winners will join councilwoman Polly Low, who usually voted with the current majority, and Gary Taylor, who typically voted with the minority. Low and Taylor were not up for reelection.

Low will likely be outvoted on most issues by a 4-1 margin. Each slate included incumbents and newcomers. On one side Mayor John Tran and Councilman John Nunez teamed up with Henry Lo, a member of the Garvey school board; on the other, Councilwoman Margaret Clark teamed up with Steven Ly, an entrepreneur, and Sandra Armenta, a special education teacher at Sanchez Elementary.

Clark's slate asked voters to reject the direction the city has been headed since Tran and Nunez took over as part of the council majority four years ago. They pointed most fervently to the city's new general plan, a blueprint for future development that was approved by the council majority last year.

Their campaign alleged the general plan would result in a development boom and population increase, creating more traffic and less parking, and vowed to amend the plan.

"We'll put it back to what it was, so each project would stand on its own merit," Clark said.

Tran, Nunez and Lo countered that the new plan manages growth based on smart-growth principals. They said it would help bring development to struggling parts of the city and improve public transportation opportunities.

All of the candidates pledged to bring more mainstream retail to Rosemead, improve public safety and improve relations among residents of the diverse city.

Before becoming a teacher, Armenta, 36, worked for the city of Rosemead. She has lived in the city for more than 30 years and has also volunteered to direct local youth teams.

Clark has been on the city council for 18 years and lived in Rosemead for more than 40 years. She also served on the city's planning commission for three years and on various regional boards and commissions and holds a teaching credential.

March 3, 2009 10:24 PM

Our View: Bring balance to Rosemead council

ROSEMEAD is one of a few local cities that has had more than its share of volatile city politics. Some of the infighting comes from very real issues, such as the nasty fight over a Wal-Mart Supercenter, a reversal of the expansion of a chicken slaughterhouse, a general plan revision and settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit against a council member.

There is no doubt that the fur is flying in this once quiet city of about 55,000 made up of whites, Hispanics and Asian immigrants.

There is absolutely no guarantee that things will settle down after the March 3 election, when voters will fill three city council seats. In fact, there are signs the opposite may be true.

Incumbents John Tran and John Nunez are running together with challenger Henry Lo. Incumbent Margaret Clark is running with challengers Sandra Armenta and Steven Ly. We don't care much for slate politics because it leaves the impression that the two "sides" are waging a pitched battle and will never work together.

So, we looked at each candidate, not each slate, to determine our endorsements. We see good qualities in all the candidates, and some not so good attributes in some, but we're endorsing three based on what they bring to the dais and how they can help improve the city, protect its residents and yes, bring stability and harmony.

We are endorsing Margaret Clark, John Tran and Steven Ly. Here is why:

Clark is an honest, hard-working public servant who deserves to be re-elected. She is ever watchful of some of the shenanigans at City Hall. She also has institutional knowledge of both local and regional issues, from transportation to waste to water. Clark was on the right side of Wal-Mart by supporting the project which has turned out to be a winner for residents and nearby residents and the city of Rosemead. The store is producing about $500,000 in annual sales tax revenues for the city, helping keep city services running and the city budget in the black during tough economic times.

Tran was on the wrong side of Wal-Mart. Today, he hardly brings up the issue. Yet, on the plus side, he has tapped into cries for improving the city's parks, re-doing its general plan while keeping an eye on city finances by helping create a five-year city spending plan. "Now we have an idea how much we can spend," he told our editorial board.

While Tran has injected new energy into the city, some of it is misplaced, like his previous calls to replace the county sheriff's deputies with its own police department. We're sure even Tran realizes this would be a costly move and irresponsible during dire economic times. But Tran has shown he can change his mind and listen to the residents - both positives in our book. That came when he voted last month with the council majority to prevent expansion of a chicken poultry business. "The will of the people is saying we don't want (the slaughterhouse) so we will take it to court," he told our reporter. We also agree with Tran and the majority's decision to buy a hotel that authorities say was plagued with drug sales and prostitution. That kind of redevelopment, if seen to completion with a possible Big Box store, is a worthwhile endeavor. Baldwin Park and Pico Rivera, for example, have had successes in this area.

Newcomer Steven Ly also gets our nod. Ly, who was the first in his family to earn a college degree (from UCLA) is an entrepreneur. He wants to focus on making sure residential growth is not too dense for existing residents, definitely a concern echoed throughout the city's neighborhoods. Yet he said finding a balance is key: "Quality development is better than quantity development," he told our editorial board.

While these choices are not all like-minded, we think they can help create a balanced city council for the next four years.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, February 17, 2009

Development to dominate Rosemead council election

ROSEMEAD - Future development in Rosemead will likely dominate the campaign agenda in the March 2009 city council election in which six candidates are completing for three open seats.

All three incumbents - Mayor John Tran, councilwoman Margaret Clark, and councilman John Nunez - are fighting to keep their seats against three political newcomers.

Clark is hoping that with the help of two of the newcomers, teacher Sandra Armenta and Steven Ly, her policies can win back the majority.

Most council votes on polemic issues break down 3-2, with Clark and councilman Gary Taylor, who is not up for reelection, in the minority and Tran, Nunez and councilwoman Polly Low, who is also not up for reelection, in the majority.

Tran and Nunez are hoping to hold on to this majority and perhaps solidify it with the help of newcomer Henry Lo, who currently serves on the Garvey school board.

Clark, Armenta and Ly are running together as a united slate based, in part, on their mutual opposition to the recently approved new general plan for development in the city.

Clark said the general plan would be rewritten under a new majority.

The plan, approved in October by the council 3-2, serves as a sort of blueprint for development in the city and allows an additional 6,000 housing units - a nearly 50 percent increase from the current 14,700 units. The increase is projected to bring the city's population up to 80,000 residents, from the current 58,000.

"Construction is good, but all in moderation. They want seven-to-eight story buildings. The water supply and streets aren't going to be able to maintain that," said Armenta, 36, who is a special education teacher at Sanchez Elementary.

Tran and Nunez said Rosemead will grow with our without the new general plan, and the plan concentrates the growth in high-density areas along major corridors, rather than in neighborhoods.

"I want to make sure if there is any density increase, it goes on to Valley, Garvey, Del Mar, San Gabriel, not on Marshall, not on the streets like Walnut Grove, like Emerson, those are residential," Nunez said. "If we don't move the growth, then I ask them where will they put it?"

Tran and Nunez said they have only begun implementing the vision they have for the city and are seeking reelection to continue on their path.

"In the last three and a half years we made a lot of progress, but we still need to continue to try to make Rosemead the best city," Tran said. "Its tough to try to fix things in a short period of time."

Attracting mainstream stores and restaurants, cleaning the city's underpasses, and continuing to improve sheriff's services to the city are among their goals, said Tran and Nunez.

Ly said he, Clark and Armenta also hope to improve sheriff's services, as well as bring new retail to the city, including a major chain supermarket, and improve parking and traffic issues.

The city's budget could also become an election issue.

"The current majority is spending down our reserves like there is no tomorrow," Clark said. "I refuse to raise taxes."

Nunez said the council has lent some of the city's reserves to the city's redevelopment agency, but they will be paid back.

"Some people will say we are spending our reserves. No. We are making them work for us," he said. "We will continue to do this without any tax increase. We will not raise taxes."

Nunez, 60, has been on the council for four years. He previously served on the Alhambra and Garvey school boards for a total of 16 years.

Tran, 33, has also been on the council for four years.

Lo, 33, did not return phone calls for comment by press time. In addition serving on the Garvey school board, he worked for 10 years on the staff of state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles.

On the other slate, Ly, 23, served as vice president of public policy on the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce last year and is preparing to start his own business in real estate and consulting.

Before she became a teacher, Armenta worked for the Rosemead Department of Parks and Recreation.

Clark has been on the city council for 17 years and before that served on the city's planning commission for three years.

"One of the reasons we wanted to run as a slate is we wanted to show that different people from different parts of the community are united in saying the city needs to move forward in a new direction," Ly said.

Pasadena Star News, December 10, 2008

Charter city supporters say confusion doomed measure

By Rebecca Kimitch, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Supporters of a measure to make Rosemead a charter city blamed voter confusion Wednesday for the initiative's failure.

Measure CC would have changed Rosemead from a general law city to a charter city. Voters rejected it by a 63 percent to 37 percent margin.

"I think there was a lot of confusion about what a charter city is," Councilwoman Polly Low said. "There is not a lot of understanding about what it is, and about the advantage of being one."

A general law city is bound by the state's general law, regardless of whether the law concerns a municipal affair. A charter city operates under an adopted charter that serves as its constitution for municipal affairs. Charter cities set their own terms for elections, salaries for council members, and rules for awarding of public contracts, among other things.

Proponents said the change would have have given the City Council greater autonomy from the state Legislature in local regulations.

Opponents argued the measure was a power grab by some Rosemead City Council members.

Regardless, both sides acknowledged that voters may have been voting on things not actually part of the measure.

Voters may have used Measure CC to voice their opposition to a new general plan approved by the City Council last month, some council members said. The general plan is a blueprint for development in the city that allows for increased population growth. It was not put to a public vote.

"Voters may have been mixing the issue with the general plan, and thinking that by saying yes to Measure CC, it means they approve all this growth, all these changes to the city," Low said. "People are mixing the issues. They are mixing the benefit of the charter with some of the issues that have been happening."

Councilwoman Margaret Clark, who opposed both the general plan and Measure CC, concurred.

"I think (the voter rejection) is more on the direction the council is taking on development," Clark said. "They didn't get to vote on that and I think that was a big issue."

Still, Clark said voters clearly opposed giving the City Council the additional power made possible by becoming a charter city.

Measure CC would also have set term limits for council members of three, four-year terms, or 12 consecutive years.

Clark, a longtime council member, said the failure of the measure meant that voters "soundly" rejected term limits.

Low and Mayor John Tran, both new to the council, weren't as convinced that term limits were the reason for voter opposition because the measure included so many other elements.

Still, they both pledged to respect the will of the voters by keeping term limits off the table in the future unless instructed otherwise by residents. Cities can implement term limits through a voter initiative without becoming a charter city.

Both Tran and Low said that more than anything, they were pleased to see large voter participation in the measure.

Of 18,321 people registered, 8,100 voted on the measure.

"It is my job to look at some of the options that I think are good for the city, but it is up to the residents what they want to do. It is my job to come up with the proposal, but it is also my job to listen," Low said.

Pasadena Star News, November 6, 2008

Council approves divisive plan for population and commercial growth

By Rebecca Kimitch

ROSEMEAD - After a stream of residents shared their hopes and fears about future growth in their city, the city council approved late last night a new General Plan for development that could draw an additional 22,000 people by 2025.

The plan will serve as a blueprint for future developers and planners - identifying where mixed commercial and residential development is to be encouraged, single-family residences are to be maintained, and industry is to be allowed.

Supporters in the audience of 200 people championed the plan as a way to bring new investment to an aging city, while opponents said it would only bring more traffic and less parking.

"I am in a panic. I am afraid of the tremendous impact of what is going to happen," 25-year resident Ana Torres told the council.

Supporters hoped new growth would provide job opportunities close to home.

"This kind of plan has been sorely lacking from the city until now," resident and traffic commissioner Brian Lewin said.

The council was also divided: Mayor John Tran and members John Nunez and Polly Low voted for it, while members Margaret Clark and Gary Taylor voted against it.

The plan allows an additional 6,000 housing units, including houses, apartments and condominiums, which is a nearly 50 percent increase from the current 14,700 units. The increase is projected to bring the city's population up to 80,000 residents, from the current 58,000.

Much of the growth would be concentrated in new mixed residential and commercial development, where apartments or condominiums would be located above or near street-level businesses. Such projects could be six or seven stories high.

The new plan decreases the amount of commercial and industrial space allowed, compared to the old general plan, which was written more than two decades ago. The new plan allows an estimated 14 million square feet of commercial and industrial space, while the old plan allowed three times that: 42 million square feet. In reality, the city currently has only about 7 million square feet of commercial and industrial space.

Pasadena Star News, October 16, 2008

Rosemead voting compliance under review

Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - As the November election nears, city officials continue to grapple with a federal lawsuit that calls for compliance with voting laws.

Rosemead was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2005 after an audit found that the city did not provide voter information in multiple languages, which is required by the Voting Rights Act.

While Rosemead has since complied with the lawsuit, officials continue to pay for outside consultants.

"We have satisfied their concerns," said Councilwoman Margaret Clark. "But this helps ensure that we continue to follow their requirements."

Tonight, City Council members will vote to approve a contract for Linda Hudson of Hudson Consulting Services, who will be hired to monitor two elections for no more than $36,000.

The total cost of the November and March elections is expected to be nearly $150,000, including consultant fees.

City officials said the workload and complexity of the consent decree is too much for the city staff to take on alone.

The 2005 lawsuit named the Rosemead City Council, former City Clerk Nancy Valderama and past City Manager Bill Crowe for failing to provide election information in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese.

The Voting Rights Act requires governmental districts with a substantial number of people who speak languages other than English to provide all voting materials in those languages as well as in English.

Among the requirements of the federal consent decree was for Rosemead to provide election materials in Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese, and to also provides oral assistance to voters who speak Korean, Japanese and Tagalog.

After the lawsuit, the city was reviewed by the Department of Justice during two subsequent elections, said City Manager Oliver Chi.

"It was a wonderful report stating that we had indeed lived up to the consent decree's requirements to make sure there is equal voting access to all of the residents in the city," Chi said.

The city will be monitored until the March election.

Rosemead was not the only local city targeted.

Walnut entered into a consent decree with the federal government after a complaint was filed in early 2007.

The agreement stated that election materials and assistance at the polling places would include Chinese and Korean languages for voters with limited-English proficiency.

The new ballot includes English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Tagalog.

In 2005, Azusa failed to fully translate its official ballots, polling signs and other voter information into Spanish, and Paramount did not provide official ballots in Spanish.

Paramount City Manager Linda Benedetti-Leal said the city has one more election to go. At the last election, she said that the city met all of the requirements by the Department of Justice.

"In our case, we only had Spanish to deal with, and we handled that with our in-house staff," Benedetti-Leal said. "It was a lot of work, but if it was three languages, that would be a lot to deal with."

Pasadena Star News, August 26, 2008

Mayor outpaces all others in money for City Council race

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Mayor John Tran is leading the fundraising pack and has collected more than $100,000 for a City Council election that is seven months away, finance records show.

The city's election will be held in March, and candidates will be vying for three open seats currently held by Tran, Councilwoman Margaret Clark and Councilman John Nu�ez.

Officials said they are surprised that Tran, who is seeking his second term on the council, has raised so much money so early.

"It's outrageous," said Clark. "We are a little city. It is outside money trying to buy power."

Campaign finance records show that from January to June, Tran raised $102,218; Nunez raised $31,684; and Clark raised $1,969.

Also actively fundraising this period is Councilwoman Polly Low, whose seat is not up until 2011. She raised $37,407 this period.

Rosemead is a city of nearly 55,000 residents. Traditionally, candidates have raised no more than $50,000.

But a recall election in 2006 prompted by the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter heightened the bar for fundraising efforts.

During that race, Wal-Mart contributed nearly $400,000 to support the recall targets: Councilman Gary Taylor and former Councilman Jay Imperial.

Taylor and Imperial were not recalled.

"The last time I ran, Wal-Mart contributed over $400,000 to a local election and that was an eye-opener," Tran said. "I want to make sure I have enough funds to get my point across."

Some of Tran's contributors also gave to Nunez and Low. Los Angeles company 420 Boyd Street LLC, contributed a total of $11,500 to the three council members.

The owners of Classic Tees Inc., also donated a total of $11,000 to the three council members. Valley Hotel, at 8711 Valley Blvd. in Rosemead, gave a total of $7,500.

"Obviously, no contribution affects my vote," Tran said.

Clark criticized Tran for accepting donations from companies outside Rosemead because she believes that will eventually lead to development by non-residents.

Of Tran's 56 donors, 15 are from Rosemead and have contributed a total of $27,300. Nearly 20 contributors are in the investment, development, construction or real estate fields.

"Being able to raise money is directly tied to being able to promote an individual's platforms and beliefs," Tran said.

Clark's largest contribution came from a retired Whittier resident, Henri Pellissier, who donated $1,000. She also received $244 worth of publication supplies from Mike Lewis, a consultant hired to back Wal-Mart.

Nunez, who is also seeking a second term, received the largest of his 24 donations from Tran, who gave him $6,000.

Low said that she initially raised money this year to stabilize her account balance, which had incurred some debt, including a $5,000 loan from Tran.

"My goal was to repay that money, so I held a fund-raising event. Surprisingly, I got a lot of donations," Low said.

Henry Lo, a Garvey School Board Member, will also be running for the seat on the Rosemead City Council.

So far, he has not raised any money.

"I am confident that I can be competitive, and I am pretty capable of fundraising," Lo said. "When I was running for school board, I raised nearly $45,000."

In Rosemead, there are no campaign contribution limits, said City Manager Oliver Chi.

Experts said there is no state standard either.

"You have to look at each city," said Robert Stern, president of the Center of Governmental Studies. "It ebbs and flows."

Pasadena Star News, August 24, 2008

Rosemead working on balanced budget

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Amid budget cuts and deficits across the state, the city expects to have a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Anticipated increases in sales and property tax revenues, as well as additional one-time revenues from county funds and back sales-tax dollars have resulted in the increase in the city's coffers.

"We are extremely excited to be able to present the city council with an operating budget that is balanced for the first time in several years," said City Manager Oliver Chi.

The City Council will discuss the proposed 2008-09 budget at tonight's council meeting.

More money will be applied to public safety, economic development, public affairs and public works than in previous years, Chi said.

Unlike last year, where the city was facing a $350,000 deficit, the city has been able to keep the budget balanced by drawing on one-time windfall, totalling nearly $1.1 million.

But Chi realizes that the city may not have such luck in the future.

"The challenge that we will have in ongoing years is putting together spending plans that are balanced," Chi said.

Councilwoman Margaret Clark said that she is upset with the proposed budget, and believes that the current council is overspending.

"(The existing staff) inherited a healthy budget and reserve, and now they are spending it down like there is no tomorrow," Clark said.

The operating revenues are projected at $18.3 million, and the expenses are at $17.8 million.

Changes in the budget include spending $83,500 for the city's 50th anniversary celebration, enhancing the public affairs program to $61,000, and more than doubling the anticipated cost for the city attorney to $364,000.

"I think that overall, it is a good budget," said Councilwoman Polly Low. "I am very pleased that it is balanced, and now we have a formal reserve policy."

Clark said she is concerned that this budget will deplete the reserves.

Recently, the city changed its reserve policy. Instead of one account for unallocated funds, the council divided its $21 million reserve pot into three categories.

One is a equipment and computer funding reserve, another is for capital improvements, and the third is for unallocated funds.

The unallocated funds pot currently has $11 million.

Whittier Daily News, June 10, 2008

Bills almost double city legal budget

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The city attorney has so far charged the city nearly double the amount budgeted for legal fees.

Bonifacio Garcia and his law firm, Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz, have charged $276,000 for legal services from July through mid-March. The city's budget for the entire year is $162,000.

"It is just too high, and there is no excuse for it as far as I am concerned," Councilman Gary Taylor said. "His fees will have to be discussed at the budget review."

Garcia did not return calls for comment.

The City Council will discuss the 2008-09 budget at its June 10 meeting, City Manager Oliver Chi said. Staff will propose more than doubling the city attorney's budget, increasing it to $364,000, Chi said.

As the city prepares for next year's budget, some council members are concerned over the high fees that have trailed Garcia.

"I'm wondering whether they are charging us for their research," said Councilwoman Margaret Clark. "This is just outrageous because we are not facing very many lawsuits."

In addition to the $15,000 a month retainer fee and nearly $31,000 worth of work on two lawsuits, Garcia has charged the city nearly $10,000 in two months to examine alleged misconduct by Clark and Taylor.

Earlier this year, the council recommended that Taylor be investigated by the grand jury for allegedly releasing confidential information in public, and Clark is being referred to the Fair Political Practices Commission for sending mailers that allegedly had misinformation.

"It is unfortunate to have these additional costs to the city," Councilwoman Polly Low said. "But (Garcia) is willing to reduce the costs to the city."

In April, the city reduced the amount budgeted per month to $20,000 from $30,000. The action came after the City Council tried to curb costs by putting a maximum on his fees, which reached as high as $58,000 in November.

The cap does does not include "extraordinary circumstances" such as litigation, court proceedings or investigations.

"If you look at it, it is higher because of situations that we have had to deal with," Low said. "If it weren't for all the additional items, then the costs would be much lower."

Since Garcia was hired nearly one year ago, he has charged $395,000 for his services.

"In my opinion, (the cap) hasn't done anything to control the costs," Taylor said. "There are three council members that don't see anything wrong with what he does."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, June 3, 2008

Council race will be heated

by Jennifer McLain and Tania Chatila

Tomorrow is the primary election.

But in eyes of some local leaders, there are more important elections to focus on - even if those elections are more than a year away.

In Rosemead, the next election is in March 2009.

But ask anyone who attends the council meetings, and it appears as though Mayor John Tran and council members Margaret Clark and John Nunez have been on the campaign trail for months.

It is still unclear who will be running for re-election, but community members seem to think that Clark, Nunez and Tran will all be trying to win their seats back.

First, there's Clark, who has sent out several fliers during the past several months opposing proposed city ordinances.

Then, there's Nunez, who was the center of a sexual harassment lawsuit, which was settled earlier this year. Last month, it looked like a damage control move when he sent out letters apologizing if he ever made employees uncomfortable.

Finally, there is Tran, who will be riding into the election on a second consecutive term as mayor.

Rosemead's elected aren't the only city officials that have the election in mind.

El Monte City Manager Jim Mussenden said recent allegations accusing Mayor Ernie Gutierrez of being drunk in public are "political."

Other city officials have said they wouldn't be surprised to see Henry August's name on the ballot - and their city election isn't until November 2009.

August was the man who lambasted Gutierrez for allegedly groping his girlfriend and shouting out vulgarities while drunk at a public event.

August, a former police officer, did not return calls for comment.

Gutierrez, Art Barrios and Juventino Gomez's terms will expire in 2009.

In South El Monte, conflict over travel budgets have some council members wondering whether that means their political futures in the city will be stifled.

Mayor Blanca Figueroa, who has spent thousands of dollars more than her colleagues in meeting and travel expenses, will be up for re-election in November 2009. Angelica Garcia and Joseph Gonzales will also be up for re-election.

Recently, some council members have been more heated than ever as Figueroa continues to go over her spending budget.

El Monte is one of the few technologically-friendly cities in the San Gabriel Valley that actually posts City Council agendas and streaming videos of council meetings online.

It's no wonder than that a reader so furiously complained on Monday when the May 20 council meeting was still not up on the city's Web site to view.

The reader pointed to possible conspiracies, and questioned the city's motives.

A staff member in the City Clerk's Office said she "forgot" to put it up - nearly a week after the meeting was held.

The meeting was up and running on the Web site within about 30 minutes later. A day after the conversation with the staffer, city spokesman Matthew Weintraub called with some concerns.

Apparently, the city employee was "distressed" over the post on the Leftovers from City Hall blog, detailing why the video wasn't posted.

Weintraub said he didn't want people in the community to think the city was trying to hide something.

Apparently, the female staffer who spoke about the council meeting video does not usually do that job. The office is understaffed and it was just an honest mistake.

We did not mean to suggest there was some mysterious reason behind the missing video. We're just happy the city posts the meetings online in the first place - unlike others who don't even make it easy to pick up a printed agenda.

Pasadena Star News, June 3, 2008

Sorry, is that an apology?

APOLOGIES from politicians are becoming as commonplace as celebrities checking into rehab.

It seems as if the public apology is now a kind of rite of passage for a mayor, council member, state legislator or governor. With few exceptions, being caught in a scandal and saying you're sorry is no longer the death knell for a public career. On the contrary, it can be a career booster.

Bill Clinton, after being exposed as a liar when he told Americans he "did not have sexual relations with that woman," continued to be popular both in and out of public office. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, after admitting to cheating on his wife with a Los Angeles TV anchorwoman, didn't miss a beat. He's still atop the largest city in California and could easily wind up head honcho of the state of California someday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "groping problem" never cost him the election. If it cost him a few nights sleeping on the couch that would surprise us.

Don't get us wrong. There's nothing wrong with the act of contrition, saying the words "I am sorry," nor the response, forgiveness. But that process only works to the fullest when the apology is clear, specific and heartfelt.

All things that the recent apology Rosemead Councilman John Nunez offered up to city employees were not.

Nunez was accused of sexually harassing a former city employee. As a result, he was sued by city finance worker Valerie Mazone for what she said was inappropriate talk and touching that went on at City Hall for two years. That lawsuit was settled by the city for $330,000 earlier this year.

Earlier this month, Nunez drew up an apology letter that he had placed inside Rosemead city employee paychecks in which he addressed his name being "associated with allegations of harassment against an employee of the City of Rosemead" but in which he never admitted guilt. It's hard to be sorry for something if you never admit it happened, only that you were "associated" with it.

In the letter, Nunez said he was sorry for his conduct that "has resulted in hurt feelings and disappointment for some people in Rosemead."

As if that's not wishy-washy, look at what Nunez went on to say. Not even saying he was the one who harassed Mazone, he excused this kind of behavior by pawning it off as being "affectionate" and "of the `old school."' There's something off-kilter about a council member saying he can't help but hug and pat employees on the back because he was raised to be a friendly person. This shows a lack of self-discipline and self-control. Not everyone in a workplace wants to be hugged or touched. Nunez, who is an adult, should realize that.

In fact, if he can't practice the qualities that come with leadership, then he should resign from office.

It sure looks like his intent is the opposite, despite what many Rosemead residents want. We agree with Rosemead Councilwoman Margaret Clark that the letter appears to be "an election ploy" designed to prepare Nunez for his re-election bid in March 2009.

If so, the letter stunt goes along with the adage that says there is no such thing as bad publicity when it comes to politicians. We would think Rosemead residents are proving that maxim wrong.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, May 21, 2008

Rosemead councilman apologizes for his "old-school" ways

Rosemead city employees received a little extra something in their May 8 paycheck. A letter of apology. Saying he was sorry if his manners might have offended, Councilman John Nunez wrote the one-page letter in response to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a female city employee, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. The lawsuit, which was settled earlier this year, accused him of inappropriate touching and crude comments, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

"Those of you who know me also know that I'm an affectionate person of the 'old-school,'" Nunez wrote. "As many of you know, when I see friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I often give them a warm hug, a pat on the back, or make what I consider to be a friendly comment."

Some of Nunez' political opponents said the letter is not an apology, including fellow council member Margaret Clark, who has called for his resignation.

"This letter does not apologize for anything, it just says that he was a touchy-feely guy."

-- Jesus Sanchez

Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2008

Rosemead's city attorney already $43,000 over his budget

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The city attorney is over his legal budget by $43,000, with six months remaining in the billing cycle, records show.

Rosemead City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia of Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz has charged the city $205,000 since July, the start of the fiscal year. The legal budget for the firm's services in 2007-08 is nearly $162,000.

Garcia did not return calls.

"That is outrageous," said Councilwoman Margaret Clark. "If we are overbudget, we are going to dip into our reserves. This is the wrong time to be overspending on anything."

The City Council on Tuesday will discuss Garcia's billing practices. This is after some council members last month questioned why he had not submitted four months' worth of bills.

Since Garcia was hired nearly one year ago on the recommendation of Councilman John Nunez, the council has adjusted its policies and taken steps to lower the city attorney's bills, which reached as much as $58,000 in November.

"I find that (Garcia) gives us great and sound advice, but in terms of cost, obviously I am very concerned about the bills," said Mayor John Tran. "I've asked staff to closely monitor the bills."

Since Garcia was hired a year ago, he has charged $323,785 for his services.

"There was one month where a bill was $56,000," said Rosemead City Manager Oliver Chi. "That type of situation can't happen anymore."

The bills prompted the city to place a $30,000 cap effective September 2007. The cap does does not include "extraordinary circumstances" such as litigation, court proceedings or investigations.

Garcia's $205,000 in fees since July include work on a pending personnel lawsuit against the city, and a city legal dispute against Councilman Gary Taylor that was referred to the grand jury.

"During the last few months," Chi said, "we have taken on extraordinary circumstances, and there is an additional cost for those services."

Legal costs vary among San Gabriel Valley cities.

In Baldwin Park, home to more than 80,000 residents, city attorney fees range between $10,000 and $20,000 a month. Invoices show the city spent about $17,000 in November, $17,000 in October and $12,000 in December for work performed by former City Attorney Stephanie Scher.

In South El Monte, which has 21,400 residents, city attorney fees averaged $31,000 a month last year, records show.

In Rosemead, a city of nearly 53,000, Garcia's bills average $36,300 a month.

Officials said they expect to present the council with a balanced budget, but legal costs could be an obstacle.

"At some point, if we exceed the appropriated amount, a budget amendment has to be executed," Chi said. "This is one of these areas where we will have to bring back some sort of budget amendment to be able to continue to pay for this service."

Pasadena Star News, April 4, 2008

Tran to stay on as mayor
Nunez turns down Rosemead position

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - A councilman who was next in line to become mayor refused the appointment on Tuesday.

Councilman John Nunez, who was expected to be selected for the mayoral seat, said that he would not accept, for personal reasons.

"There's a couple of things I need to do in my personal life," Nunez said. "Really, I'd like to renominate John Tran."

The council voted 3-2 to reappoint Tran as mayor.

Rosemead City Council members rotate into the mayor position. Last year, Nunez was slated to become mayor but instead passed that title to Tran.

Nuñez said last year that he would rather be mayor when he ran for re-election in 2009. Tran and Councilwoman Margaret Clark will also be up for re-election.

Critics believe that Nunez's decision to pass this year was because of a recently settled sexual harassment lawsuit against him.

The lawsuit alleged that Nunez sexually harassed a former finance employee over a two year period. The lawsuit was settled in January for nearly $330,000.

Others think the decision was made to help keep the momentum rolling under the leadership of Tran.

In the past year, Rosemead has dealt with staff turnover, a shift in the council majority, the hiring of a new city attorney, nearly a dozen new development projects and a change in the city's residential and commercial guidelines.

"Rosemead has been known to be a quiet city, and city of constants," said Steve Ly, president of political action committee Rosemead Partners. "People know they could go there, raise a family, and have a good, quiet life. A lot of the recent changes have disrupted that cycle of life."

Tran's return as mayor will likely mean development in the city, more activities, more community involvement and more positive growth, Councilwoman Polly Low countered.

"He has really promoted a team spirit," Low said on Wednesday. "He took the lead on the Fourth of July event and Oktoberfest. He has done a lot for this city."

But some believe that Tran, Low and Nunez have been too supportive of development and are trying to take away the rights of residents and property owners.

"I am happy that Mr. Nunez won't be mayor," Ly said. "But we were hoping there would be some sort of change."

Rosemead Partners has called for Nunez to resign for his involvement in the lawsuit.

Clark and Councilman Gary Taylor voted against the appointment of Tran and the reappointment of Nunez as mayor pro tem.

"It's been probably two decades since we've had anyone keep the mayorship two years in a row," Clark said on Wednesday.

The nomination of Tran drew applause from the crowd, and Low said that looking at the support from the residents she felt it was appropriate for her to support Tran to be mayor.

The position of mayor is largely ceremonial, city officials said, including attending ribbon cuttings and presiding at meetings.

"I know this has been a very, very challenging year," Tran said moments before the vote. "But hopefully, it's been a successful year."

Pasadena Star News, March 27, 2008

Council asks for Garcia's legal bills
City attorney said to be four months behind

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Officials are wondering why they haven't seen a bill from the city attorney since November.

Since April, legal fees from three separate law firms representing the city reached about $300,000, records show. Of that, $233,414 has gone to City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia.

Some elected officials are concerned about how high fees will spike because Garcia has only billed them from April through October.

"I want to find out why he is four months behind," Councilman Gary Taylor said, who called Garcia's billing habits, "very unusual," and alleges the city attorney is finding ways to milk the city.

Garcia did not returns calls seeking comment.

The city hired Garcia, whose firm, Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz also represents the Garvey School District, on April 3. Since then, the city has seen legal fees that have been unmatched in previous years.

City Manager Oliver Chi expects the bills to be around $150,000, which is about $37,500 a month.

"Clearly something is wrong here," said Robert Stern, president for the Center for Governmental Studies. "Normally, if you do work, you submit bills."

Rosemead has budgeted legal fees at $265,000 for the 2007-08 fiscal year, and Chi expects the fees to exceed the budget. The projected cost for the city attorney costs in 2006-07 had been $159,735.

Attorney's fees were lower in the past, Mayor John Tran said, because city development was stagnant.

"Of course the legal fees will be higher than in the past, especially with the fact that the city is finally providing better services," Tran said.

Garcia's high bills prompted the city to place a cap on his contract, limiting him to $30,000 a month. The retainer does not include additional legal work such as lawsuits.

"Most of these are legal expenses which are an exception to his retainer," Taylor said. "He brings in these extra cases, and gets more money."

Among the cases are a lawsuit filed by a former employee Randy Haro, which cost $4,893 in October, the recommendation of Taylor to the Grand Jury over possible leaking of confidential material, which cost $7,370 in October, and a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice against Rosemead, which cost $5,880 in September. The DOJ lawsuit preceded Garcia's arrival and deals with voting rights.

These are not attorney initiated causes that Garcia is taking up, Tran said.

"He takes direction from the council," he said.

The City Council also hired a separate law firm, Burke, Williams and Sorensen, to represent the city's redevelopment agency. Since Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired in September as the city's redevelopment agency attorney, it has charged the city $28,315, or about $7,000 a month.

"Just because a number is budgeted, doesn't mean that we are held to that account," Tran said. "In the past, we have exceeded the budget."

Pasadena Star News, March 13, 2008

City plan scrutinized
High-density projects, too many developers draw residents' ire

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Proposed changes for the city's General Plan have elicited little praise from residents.

Tonight, the City Council will listen to residents before voting to alter the plan used as a blueprint for future development. The General Plan has not been updated since 1987.

Residents have complained about an increase in high-density, mixed-use projects as well as an influx of developers, especially Asian developers, who allegedly have political connections with council members.

Among the biggest proposals is to double the size of dwellings allowed per acre to 45 units from 14 units. Critics of the plan said this will bring an increase in traffic and population.

"The General Plan will have a major impact on the city, and I believe it is a positive impact," Mayor John Tran said. "Every resident that lives in Rosemead should come," to the study session tonight, he said.

A total of 120 residents attended three recent workshops. Most speakers at the sessions said they don't want more development, said City Planner Matt Everling.

"Mostly, people have been concerned about three issues: density, traffic and parking," Everling said.

The plan is intended to enhance the commercial areas along Garvey Avenue and Valley Boulevard, protect homeowner investments, create an economically viable downtown and minimize traffic impacts, officials said.

Everling said that some of the comments have referred to not wanting Asian developers to build in the city.

The city is 49 percent Asian and 41 percent Latino, according to city documents.

"They majority of the residents who were there at the meetings are really against change," he said. "They see that this will make it worse."

Councilwoman Polly Low said that people need to open their eyes, realize that the city has changed and it that it didn't happen in the last six months.

"There are other developers that have developed in the city," Low said, "and the fact that they point out Asian developers is very unfair."

Other nearby cities have had issues in the past with similar sentiments.

Lisa Yang, a developer and real estate broker based in Alhambra, said she felt unwelcome when she tried to develop a commercial property at the corner of Huntington Drive and Fremont Avenue in South Pasadena nearly 25 years ago.

"I designed everything within the zoning code, but I got this huge reaction against my project," Yang said. "The underlying issue is that I was somehow not in their circle, and that I was a newcomer."

Councilwoman Margaret Clark, who recently sent out fliers protesting some of the changes, said race has nothing to do with it.

"Does it matter that the developer is Asian? No," Clark said. "I don't think that anyone cares who develops it as long as they do it right."

In recent months, there have been several projects approved by the City Council and the Planning Commission. The approval of these mixed-use projects - which include condos, retail and office space - all came with conditions that amended the existing general plan.

"Rather than bringing more people and then fix the problem, we should fix the problem and then bring more people," said Rosemead resident Gary Metz at a council meeting early this month.

Yang, who served on a task force to study mixed-use developments in Monterey Park, said they could be a good solution, "If the city doesn't have much land and has very limited land to develop," she said.

Some residents, so far, aren't convinced.

"We don't want to be a mini-New York or a mini-Chicago," Metz said. "We are losing the small-town feeling that Rosemead has had for at least 40 years."

Pasadena Star News, February 26, 2008

Casting a pall over Rosemead

THERE are plenty of troubling aspects to the settlement of a sexual harassment claim brought by a female city employee against Rosemead Councilman John Nunez.

Ina rush to settle, the case never went to trial, leaving the councilman's guilt or innocence unresolved. Instead, in what was billed as a money-saving move, the city will pay $330,000 through its insurance to former finance employee Valerie Mazone for alleged actions taking place over two years that included: hugging, kissing, touching, making crude comments and looking down her blouse. Nunez has denied any wrongdoing and in August called the lawsuit "frivolous" and "unfounded." However, more recently, he did tell our reporter, "I have been guilty of trying to be friendly with people. ... Have I touched (Mazone)? Yes. Have I touched her sexually? No."

Clearly, Nunez is walking a fine line. And it's unfortunate that the public won't know whether or not he crossed it. Cities must find ways to save taxpayer dollars whenever possible. But when issues of justice are involved, getting to the truth is more important than saving a few bucks. Ask any of the women employees in City Hall or any city hall in our region. In this case, they've been cheated.

Second, while claims like this come up more often in an increasingly litigious environment, every workplace must increase efforts to ensure that women can work free of harassment from male supervisors and to defuse tensions associated with a hostile work environment.

Once again, the council majority in Rosemead is not working toward these goals. Nunez leaves a cloud over City Hall by remaining in his post and by making statements that his touchy-feely behavior - which an investigator says involved at least four other women - is just him being "friendly." Resigning would be best for the employees and the residents of Rosemead.

While the city has promised it will provide its staff with anti-sexual harassment training in February, City Council members are excluded from that requirement. The normally reliable League of California Cities was of no help in this matter when its spokesman cited chapter and verse as to why city council members are "not employees" and therefore exempt from training. Legally exempt? Perhaps. But what about ethically? We encourage the state Legislature to change that requirement. We would support such a bill. In this case, all council members should attend the training, especially Nunez, should he decide to stay on.

Finally, the city's attorney has refused to give copies of a city investigator's interview notes to the City Council, citing claims of confidentiality. While the city hides behind legal issues, there is a greater one exposed: the possibility of additional sexual harassment claims surfacing against Nunez and the city. This could result in further settlement payments and legal costs born by taxpayers.

To ignore this possibility by not examining the investigator's notes or by not requiring council members to attend additional training sessions is a breech in the City Council's fiduciary responsibility. And a show of disrespect against the city's hard-working female employees.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, January 29, 2008

Harassment suit over; accusations still linger

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - As the city moves past a settlement of sexual harassment allegations, questions remain over investigative interview notes and the effect of additional harassment training.

Experts say the notes, which detail other accounts of alleged harassment by Councilman John Nunez, should be made public, contrary to the city attorney's stance.

City officials also said training will prevent any potential problems in the future, although council members are not obligated to attend.

Nunez, who declined to comment for this story, earlier this week said the allegations were about money and politics.

"It is appalling to me that one person can go out there and demoralize (me)," Nunez said Tuesday.

Former city employee Valerie Mazone filed a lawsuit against the councilman and claimed he sexually harassed her over a two-year period. The lawsuit was settled earlier this month for $330,000. Nunez continues to deny wrongdoing.

Since the settlement, Rosemead officials said they will be providing staff members with additional sexual harassment training.

"We have taken the necessary steps we can to provide a workplace free of harassment," City Manager Oliver Chi said.

But California elected officials are not required to receive sexual harassment training, said Eva Spiegel, spokeswoman for the League of California Cities.

City employees must read and abide by a nearly 50-page employee handbook, part of which addresses sexual harassment, but city council members do not because they are not considered employees, Chi said. The city will have training in February and council members will have the option to attend, he said.

Rosemead officials said they are pleased with the settlement so they can move on to city business.

There are some who wonder how the city can move away from the issue with allegations recently surfacing of other women who reported being victims of Nunez's harassment. Council members have been denied a private investigator's notes, in which she interviewed nearly 20 employees who detailed accounts of other incidents of harassment by Nunez involving at least four other women. The investigator was hired to review Mazone's claims.

Jim Ewert, counsel for the California Newspaper Association and a public records expert, said he is "mystified" as to how a council could be prevented from reviewing information that contains "potential claims that are lying in the weeds."

"If they are going to claim, `We don't know anything,' then they have given up on their duty to adequately govern the public," Ewert said.

Councilman Gary Taylor has long asked for information about the case and has accused other city officials of withholding crucial information.

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia previously has denied releasing the information to the council, citing confidentiality.

But with the settlement over, Ewert said this information should be available to council members and the public.

"According to the city attorney, they don't have to be released," Chi said. "We haven't received those notes, we don't have a copy of those notes and we haven't read the contents."

Some city officials, say others have misinterpreted Nunez's behavior and doubt the claims. Councilwoman Polly Low described Nunez as a friendly man.

"My question to Valerie is why did she settle?" Low said.

Mazone said in an interview that she wonders if she did the right thing by settling the lawsuit instead of going to trial.

"People think I won the lottery," Mazone said. "But this was never about the money."

Mazone said she initially asked for her pay for the time she was out on unpaid administrative leave after she lodged the complaints, for her job back and for Nunez to resign.

"I did nothing wrong," she said, "and I lost my job."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, January 28, 2008

Rosemead officials deny Nunez harassment charges covered up

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - City officials denied Tuesday night they covered up sexual harassment allegations against Councilman John Nunez.

Political opponent Councilman Gary Taylor accused Nunez and City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia of trying to prevent City Council members from reading dozens of pages of notes from an investigator who was hired after a finance employee lodged complaints against Nunez.

Interviews conducted by private investigator Tess Elconin revealed several allegations of "inappropriate" behavior by Nunez against female employees.

"I continue to deny any wrongdoing," Nunez said during Tuesday's council meeting. "Since when does putting my hand on someone's shoulder considered sexual?"

The city hired Elconin after former finance employee Valerie Mazone filed a lawsuit against Nunez. A $330,000 settlement was reached earlier this month.

In her notes, employees detail accounts where they witnessed, experienced or were aware of inappropriate interactions Nunez had with female staff members, including hugging, touching, kissing and crude comments.

Nunez described his actions as ways of demonstrating friendship and camaraderie.

"I have been guilty of trying to be friendly with people," Nunez said. "Have I touched (Mazone)? Yes. Have I touched her sexually? No."

City Manager Oliver Chi said when Elconin was hired, it was to prepare a report regarding only interactions between Mazone and Nunez. A six-page report was read to the council members, but Elconin's notes were not, officials said.

"There are no plans to come up with a separate report," Chi said.

Taylor kept asking for the notes and referred to them as a second report.

"You keep trying to cover this up," Taylor said to other city officials at the meeting.

Mayor John Tran called Taylor's cover-up accusations "ridiculous."

"He's mentioned it many, many times, and I don't see how it is a cover-up," Tran said on Friday. "Anytime there is a pending lawsuit or litigation, any information we receive must remain confidential."

On Tuesday, Nunez said Mazone's lawsuit "was simply a monetary issue."

"These charges are all political," he added.

Chi said "no one in City Hall" has read Elconin's notes because they are considered privileged information.

According to the notes, Nunez said he doesn't "recall ever hugging. (I) will touch - but only to touch shoulders or shake hands."

Nunez would not comment on whether he read the notes, citing confidentiality.

"Is this true and were those people under oath?" Nunez said of the people who were interviewed by the private investigator. "I would have loved to have gone to trial."

A handful of protesters stood outside City Hall on Tuesday night holding signs that read: "Resign now Nunez," "Sexual harassment is wrong, say no to Nunez," and "A step down for Nunez is a step up for women."

Chi said the city will provide additional sexual harassment training to staff members next month and council members will be invited to attend.

"We haven't had any other employees come forward and say that they feel harassed," Chi said.

Whittier Daily News, January 24, 2008

Notes detail alleged misconduct
Investigator: More than 20 report Nunez involved

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - More than 20 city employees reported inappropriate contact or comments by Councilman John Nunez, according to the notes of an investigator hired by the city in response to a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Interviews by private investigator Tess Elconin show four female city employees said they chose not to report Nunez's conduct because they feared for their jobs.

Other employees reported that Nunez gave shoulder massages, hugs and kisses to female employees.

"She was afraid to rock the boat," Elconin wrote in an interview with one an employee. "People are worried about jobs."

Elconin declined to be interviewed for this report. Rosemead hired her in March to interview current and former city employees after finance employee Valerie Mazone filed a sexual harassment complaint. The lawsuit was settled for $330,000 early this month. Nunez has denied any wrongdoing.

At the time of the settlement, the city's insurance company said it was cheaper for Rosemead to settle the lawsuit than to fight it.

Elconin concluded Mazone was subject to unwelcome physical, verbal and visual conduct by Nunez, the report states.

Nunez declined comment on Elconin's notes, saying that it was confidential information.

Elconin would not discuss the contents of her notes, which comprised of dozens of pages. Elconin's report to the city was six pages.

"We've never heard any of this," Councilman Gary Taylor said of Elconin's notes. "Where do we go from here? I am not looking for another lawsuit. But who protects the employees?"

Councilwoman Polly Low said the council has not read the notes.

"I think that in general, (Nunez) is a very friendly, very warm person," Low said. "Sometimes, people misinterpret his friendliness."

Current and past employees said Nunez "bear hugs" female employees, that they are uncomfortable when Nunez touches them, and that he has kissed at least one of them on the lips, according to the notes.

City Manager Oliver Chi declined to comment on the information in the notes.

"The one thing that I am pleased with is that since this Mazone situation," Chi said, "we haven't had any other instances of employees coming forward."

He also would not comment on whether that is because employees are afraid to come forward or if that is because there are no incidents to report.

"As an employer, our obligation is to provide a workplace free of harassment," Chi said. "We have reminded everyone that ... if it needs to be brought to their attention, please notify a supervisor."

According to the investigative report, during the interview with Elconin, Chi said that Nunez "hugs people," and is "inappropriate towards women in the workplace."

One employee in an interview March 19 told Elconin that she heard Nunez say that "he was aroused by the way (two female employees) were dressed."

Nunez told Elconin he doesn't "recall ever hugging. (I) will touch - but only to touch shoulders or shake hands."

Another eyewitness told Elconin "Nunez approached me from behind, put his arms around me, around my waist. (He) wrapped (his) arms around (my) middle area and our bodies touched. It was really a squeeze, very tight hug."

The woman called the incident "very weird." This was "not usual in the workplace, but (I was) reluctant to say anything," she told Elconin.

According to the report, former City Manager Bill Crowe told Elconin on March 22 that it came to his attention, "that Nunez's character-based matters could be an issue."

One of the items noted in Elconin's report was that Mazone did not notify her supervisor.

Former Finance Director Karen Ogawa was told by Mazone how Nunez made her feel uncomfortable, but Ogawa considered that conversation "girl talk," not a formal complaint, records show.

Low could not comment on what was in the notes because it was part of a confidential report.

"John is just a very friendly type of person. He goes up, gives you a hug. That's part of the culture," Low said. "He doesn't think of it as a sexual thing."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, January 22, 2008

Nunez asked to step down
Residents upset over harassment suit settlement

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Residents are asking that a councilman who was cleared of sexual harassment allegations step down.

A $330,000 settlement was reached last week in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Councilman John Nunez and the city.

A finance employee alleged that Nunez harassed Valerie Mazone over a two-year period from summer 2005 to January 2007. Mazone has been on administrative leave since filing the suit.

Nunez said that on the advice of his lawyer, he's remained silent since the lawsuit was filed in April. But with the settlement just about finalized, the councilman made his first public comment about the allegations on Tuesday during a City Council meeting.

"The penalty for my silence is I've been not able to defend myself," said Nunez, adding that these charges did not appear until two years after the alleged conduct. "I deny and continue to strongly deny all allegations."

After reading a prepared speech on Tuesday, some residents called for Nunez - who joined the council in 2005 - to resign.

"Our city leaders should step up and insist Nunez step down and do the right thing for a change," said Rosemead resident Jean Hall.

"It is my opinion that the city councilman should step down," said Victor Ruiz, a Rosemead resident who has run two unsuccessful campaigns to serve on the city council.

"When one is innocent you must go all the way and fight for what is right and clear your name," Ruiz said. "In this case the easy way out was to pay the person who was right."

The proposed settlement with Mazone is $330,000, and will be paid through Rosemead's liability insurance policy, not by the city or Nunez.

City officials said of that amount, an estimated $110,000 would go to Mazone's attorney's fees, and the remaining $220,000 would be awarded to Mazone.

"I continue to remain appalled at the total cost of the settlement," Nunez said.

The insurance would also pay an estimated $40,000 in defense attorney fees.

That cost, however, continued to increase after each time Councilman Gary Taylor discussed confidential information in open meetings, Nunez said.

"This undermined the (Joint Powers Insurance Authority) and its effort to solve the case," Nunez said.

A complaint was submitted to the Los Angeles County grand jury for an alleged open meeting violation by Taylor, who has for months requested a confidential investigative report be made available.

"This has been a cover up from the beginning," Taylor said.

All parties have agreed to the settlement, although it must still be signed, said John Bolin, liability claims manager for the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority. The JPIA organized and paid for the defense.

"The JPIA feels it is done," City Manager Oliver Chi said. "We haven't gotten a copy of the signed settlement agreement, but once our attorney's review it, it will be finalized."

Bolin said that settling is a cheaper way out.

Some audience members supported Nunez.

"All these people clapping (for those calling for Nunez's resignation) should go to another county where they are presumed guilty," said Rosemead resident Jim Flournoy.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, January 10, 2007

$330K settlement looms in suit against Rosemead councilman

By Alison Hewitt, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - A city employee who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Councilman John Nunez stands to gain $330,000 as part of a pending settlement, officials said.

The proposed settlement with Valerie Mazone would be paid through Rosemead's liability insurance policy, not by the city or Nunez. The insurance also would pay an estimated $40,000 in defense attorney fees.

Mazone sued Nunez and the city in April, alleging that the councilman had harassed her for more than a year. She accused the councilman of grabbing her, kissing her and looking down her blouse.

Nunez denied the accusations.

All parties have agreed to the settlement, although it must still be signed, said John Bolin, liability claims manager for the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority. The JPIA organized and paid for the defense.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a done deal," Bolin said.

The settlement requires Mazone, who has been on administrative leave, to release Nunez and the city from liability, Bolin said.

"Neither the city nor John Nunez are admitting any responsibility," he said. "They are both denying any responsibility."

Mazone's attorney, Gregory Smith, said it was a good settlement for his client.

"She will not be returning to the city," he said. "She has decided to seek employment elsewhere."

Nunez declined to comment, saying he had yet to hear from his attorney that the settlement had been finalized.

His attorney, Ed Richards, said the JPIA's decision to settle was in the best economic interest of the city and his client.

"I'm confident it would have cost them more than ($330,000) simply to defend the case if they'd gone to trial," Richards said. "Even if we prevailed with a defense verdict, which we believed we would be able to do, it would have cost them more than they were able to settle for."

If Rosemead and Nunez had gone to trial instead of settled, the JPIA's attorney's fees alone would have totaled $250,000 to $350,000, Bolin said.

"If we won, (Mazone) would not have any responsibility for paying us back for any of our attorney fees and costs. We would just be out the money," Bolin said. "With all that in mind, it makes sense to reach some sort of compromise, because arguably, we got out for less money than we would have paid had we gone to trial and won."

But Councilwoman Margaret Clark, who said she believes the allegations, criticized the settlement.

"I think it's just outrageous what he did, and that there's no consequences for him," Clark said.

"He should do the honorable thing and resign," she added. "If he can get away with this with no consequences and he stays in office, what does that say to our employees?"

The settlement also will increase the city's JPIA membership fees, Clark said.

Bolin confirmed that the annual fees are directly based on the JPIA's costs, which are divided among all of the JPIA's more than 100 members. Those members include Irwindale, South Pasadena, Sierra Madre, the Gateway Cities Council of Governments, South El Monte and other local entities.

Councilman Gary Taylor, who has been demanding a copy of a private investigator's report about this and other complaints about Nunez, blamed his colleague for getting the city involved in the suit.

"It's just very frustrating that we get sued for his misconduct," Taylor said. "(Paying) $330,000 is a lot of money for him disrespecting employees."

Mayor John Tran and Councilwoman Polly Low could not be reached for comment.

Whittier Daily News, January 4, 2008

Nearby construction worries mobile home park residents

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Mobile home park residents continue to feel slighted as their homes are threatened to be taken from them to make way for new shops and condos.

Nearly 20 Rosemead residents attended a public hearing last week to discuss a development that could call for the destruction of a mobile home park at Prospect and Garvey avenues.

"I am sorry we are mobile home residents, but we are still residents of Rosemead," said Elizabeth Kjartanson, who has lived in the park for 15 years.

She is one of the several occupants who will eventually have to relocate because of a combined condominium and commercial project.

But the relocation phase of the mobile park will not come until much later, which means that the residents will have to stay there as construction continues on the first phase, which includes commercial and residential development.

"We are very concerned that we'll have to live through all this construction," said Anna Torres, a mobile home park resident.

The residents have not been officially notified of the changes at their park because development is still unknown.

"This uncertainty has been going on for years, and they are putting our lives in limbo," said James Kjartanson, a mobile home park resident.

City officials tried to assuage their concerns on Tuesday and added that state law protects these residents and ensures that they will be provided with adequate relocation costs.

"You guys are as important to us as everyone in the city, and that is not lip service," Brian Saeki, Rosemead assistant city manager, told the residents.

In South El Monte, mobile home park residents can relate to the feelings that some of these Rosemead residents are experiencing.

In South El Monte, just a few residents remain now at the Avalon Trailer Park, a 70-year-old park that once housed 20 families.

Residents of the park were informed almost two years ago that they would be forced from their homes, which prompted questions, worry and anxiety about their next move. Today, all but five have relocated.

The South El Monte City Council on Tuesday extended the move out date for those remaining residents. They have until the end of April to relocate.

The City Council-approved closure was expected to happen in May.

Since then, however, the relocation plan has expired and the remaining residents have not received the required six-month notice of closure, records show.

In the trailer park's place will be a future redevelopment project, Plaza Del Sol. It will have a national retail clothing store, grocery store, a nationally known restaurant and several smaller local retail shops, records show.

City officials said this development will help remove blight from the city.

The South El Monte plan calls for a baseline fee of $2,250. Families would also get $60 for every year they lived in the park and also could receive a $4,000 bonus if they move before Feb. 28. If they move before April 30, they will get a $1,000 incentive. If they move after that date they will not receive anything.

Rosemead residents have not yet seen a relocation plan.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, December 16, 2007

Mayor asks for mailers probe
Councilwoman calls request `totally bogus'

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Mayor John Tran wants a fellow City Council member investigated in connection with a series of political mailers.

The complaint stems from Tran's frustration with four mailers initiated by Councilwoman Margaret Clark and paid for by a political action committee, Rosemead Partners.

Each of the mailers prompted hundreds of upset residents to go to city meetings and complain. Tran said the fliers cost the city money to clarify inaccuracies in them.

Clark called Tran's request "totally bogus."

"It is a free-speech issue," Clark said of the mailers. "(Tran) just doesn't like the opposition."

The fliers were addressed to thousands of residents throughout the city on such topics as fence heights, property rights and development guidelines.

On Tuesday, Tran asked the city attorney to draft a complaint to the state Attorney General's Office, the California Fair Political Practices Commission, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Tran said that Clark is distributing "false and misleading information to invoke fear into the residents of Rosemead.

"Council member Clark has continued to incite fear and invoke panic by sending out postcards with information that borders on lies," Tran said.

Dave Demerjian, head of the district attorney's public integrity unit, said the office has not yet received the complaint. He said the office would handle such a complaint if "the mailers violate the law in some manner." Printing false information is not a crime, he said.

"The content, you can't really restrict it," he said. "But there are certain technicalities that could make it illegal."

These include items such as not stating the responsible party of the mailer, or forging a signature, as was done in a political hit piece against Monterey Park Councilman Benjamin "Frank" Venti in the March election.

"We're not doing anything illegal, and I don't think Maggie is doing anything illegal either," said Steven Ly, president of Rosemead Partners. "We have nothing to hide."

Ly said that he was waiting for this type of response from Tran.

"I find it very frustrating that the mayor is trying to suppress dissent," Ly said.

This is the second time in recent months that a Rosemead council member has requested an outside agency review another member for possible illegal activity.

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia said on Tuesday night that he filed a complaint with the Grand Jury and the District Attorney's Office related to complaints against Councilman Gary Taylor.

Taylor is accused of violating the state's open-meeting laws by releasing confidential information.

Demerjian confirmed that his office did receive that complaint, but the District Attorney's Office cannot act on it unless it is directed to do so by the Grand Jury.

"If the Grand Jury issued an accusation, which is the removal of someone from office, it would be our agency that would possibly prosecute," Demerjian said.

Clark said she believes Tran's actions on Tuesday were politically motivated.

Demerjian acknowledged that many of the complaints his office receives are politically motivated.

"There is nothing we could do about it," Demerjian said. "But just because it is politically motivated does not mean it is not a crime."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, December 13, 2007

Rosemead residents flock to meeting

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - A meeting expected to draw only a handful of people last week brought in nearly 100 residents concerned about development in the city.

The turnout was prompted by a mailer that stated proposed changes to Rosemead's general plan would allow bigger buildings, more condos, reduced parking requirements and more retail square footage.

It also stated that the changes could result in "blocked skyline views for adjacent homeowners, shadows across backyards, fees to park on your street."

The flier was paid for by a political-action committee, Rosemead Partners, and was sent to nearly 1,300 residents.

City officials said the Thursday meeting, at which redrafting the general plan was discussed, was not designed to address specific development plans.

"It seems that the flier was really focused on specific types of developments," said City Manager Oliver Chi.

The meeting was intended to give residents an opportunity to comment on the proposed general plan and an environmental-review process. Many attendees held the flier in their hands.

Comments made at the meeting ranged from traffic to safety and overpopulation concerns.

The flier was initiated by Councilwoman Margaret Clark.

"I am very concerned about the development," Clark said. "If you change the general plan, you give carte blanche to the developers."

The City Council recently approved a change to the general plan for one development, allowing high-density commercial and retail construction. The council will vote on a similar project - which is located within 500 feet of Clark's home - on Dec. 11.

Clark will have to recuse herself because she lives within 500 feet of the project. She said that project is not behind her opposition to mixed-use projects in the city, and was not the reason for the flier.

"They are going in everywhere in the city, and will affect everyone in one way or another," Clark said. "I think that they will greatly impact traffic, parking issues and the privacy of people living around them."

Mayor John Tran said the flier is a often-used scare tactic by Clark.

"She continues to do this," Tran said. "I'm fed up."

Chi said that he expected a "difficult and controversial" meeting similar to past meetings where fliers opposing ordinances had been distributed by Rosemead Partners.

This is the fourth time the group has distributed fliers. Each flier has helped attract nearly 100 people to meetings.

Two fliers were distributed in May regarding fence-height requirements found in the city's proposed residential guidelines. Another flier in September regarded a proposed property- upkeep law that was discussed at a redevelopment agency meeting.

Some council members have questioned the accuracy of the fliers. The city has spend thousands of dollars to send its own fliers in response to Rosemead Partners' mailers.

Steven Ly, president of Rosemead Partners, said that the group is doing the best it can to get the information correct.

"The real worry seems to be that some members see that we are able to generate civil action," Ly said. "Our mailers are pretty honest and our information is backed up."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, December 2, 2007

As city's legal fees rise, confusion persists
Rosemead reviews law firms' contracts

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The decision to hire two law firms for municipal work is proving costly and confusing, city officials said.

The law firm Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz was hired in April to take over as the city's and redevelopment agency's attorney. But half of the firm's work was taken away in September when Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired to represent the redevelopment agency.

City officials said the move would help reduce attorney's fees. But since then, attorney's bills are higher than in past years, and officials can't agree on how to divvy up the responsibilities.

"As of today, there still needs to be more clarification," Mayor John Tran said.

Confusion remains on whether Garcia's firm will be representing the Planning Commission or if that duty should be passed on to Burke, Williams and Sorensen. The City Council on Tuesday requested to review both firms' contracts and to discuss it at a future meeting.

The Planning Commission handles issues related to land use, and Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired to represent the city on those matters. But Garcia's firm is still representing the commission.

Councilwoman Margaret Clark is concerned the city is being overcharged by Garcia's firm.

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia has charged the city nearly $164,000 for five months of work, including an August bill for $17,622, and a May bill for $56,440.

Burke, Williams and Sorensen charged $5,612 for the month of September.

"I've been disappointed in the billing and the performance," Clark said referring to Garcia's firm.

In the meantime, the city is also paying its former law firm, Wallin, Cress, Reisman and Kranitz, for several cases it is handling. During six months, the firm has charged nearly $30,000, including $1,862 a month for health insurance.

City Manager Oliver Chi said the council has addressed ways to control Garcia's attorney's fees, and they are beginning to see the effects now.

"We are at a better place today at our legal costs than several months ago," he said.

Garcia's high bills prompted the city to place a cap on his contract, limiting him to $30,000 a month.

"I am satisfied with the type of work and legal advice that his firm has provided," Tran said.

Rosemead has budgeted legal fees at $265,000 for the 2007-08 fiscal year, and Chi expects the fees to exceed the budget.

"It falls in line with what we have already set aside for what we've budgeted," Tran said. "We took action to decrease our legal bills, and I think that it is working."

Whittier Daily News, November 26, 2007

City's views on new Wal-Mart improve

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - It's been a little more than a year since the store that was the source of debates, lawsuits and a recall effort opened in the city.

But a topic that once drew hundreds of upset opponents only drew a handful of residents on Monday, who attended a meeting to complain about the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Walnut Grove Avenue.

Residents said at a Wal-Mart building review Monday that noise, run-away shopping carts and increased traffic are continual problems.

"The fact that people aren't here tonight is not an indication that all is well," said Yuki Fukumoto, a Wal-Mart neighbor and Rosemead resident. "We've gone from a quiet, residential neighborhood to a noisy street."

But officials say that business at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 1827 Walnut Grove Ave. is meeting all expectations.

"It is doing better than I anticipated," Store Manager Jorge Lopez said.

Whether it was the dozens of satisfied building requirements or the promise of delivering groceries at low prices, Lopez said the store has "lived up to our end."

City records show that Wal-Mart has satisfied nearly all of its required conditions for approval. There are three outstanding conditions: electrical transformers need to go underground and there is confusion whether an existing sound wall is satisfactory. Planning Administrator Matt Everling said the staff will follow up with these concerns and report the information back to the planning commission at a future date.

In Wal-Mart on Tuesday, women got their nails done, kids ate at the McDonald's, and shoppers walked out of the store, their carts full of groceries, baby clothes and toilet paper.

"I think that the community response has been overwhelmingly positive," Lopez said.

Monterey Park resident Betty Sarvegna shops at the Rosemead store about once a month.

"The prices for groceries are more affordable than compared to other stores," she said.

Financial targets have been hit, city building conditions have been met, and customers seem to be happy, Lopez said.

Tiffany Moffatt, community spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said that the company "typically doesn't release specific sales and performance numbers."

"But I can tell you we are extremely pleased with the fact that it has been very well received in the market," Moffatt said. "It's exceeded our expectations."

City Manager Oliver Chi did not release how much money in sales-tax revenue has been produced from Wal-Mart because that information is "privileged and confidential."

The Singtao Daily reported on Sept. 9, that Councilman John Nunez released a "classified document" stating that the first quarter of the year Wal-Mart paid $160,000 in sales-tax revenue, which is $60,000 more than expected.

On Monday, about six residents voiced their concerns.

"For some of the residents that live close by, there is still a concern, especially with noise," said Mayor John Tran.

Tran, who voted against the approval of Wal-Mart, said the store has become more integral to the community. The store has sponsored several schools, city events and local clubs.

"I think that people have a little bit different perception of the Wal-Mart today," Lopez said.

Marlene Shinen, a San Gabriel resident, said she was upset that Wal-Mart shopping carts can be spotted throughout the city.

Councilwoman Margaret Clark said that problem is not unique to the city or the store.

"We have shopping cart problems everywhere," Clark said. "And we have an ordinance for fixing that."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, November 25, 2007

Travel tally
City expense budgets range from frugal to generous

By Tania Chatila and Jennifer McLain, Staff Writers

Local cities expect to spend nearly a half-million dollars this year to send officials to conferences across the country.

Taxpayer money covers nearly all the costs associated with these trips, including air fare, hotel stays and meals.

But where these elected officials go, what they spend and how often they travel differs from city to city.

A review of travel expenses for council members in 17 cities show some municipalities budget as little as $5,000 for travel and have strict policies that curb expenses. Other cities, however, give their councils up to $60,000 a year - split equally among members - to cover costs like $75 seafood plates, stays at posh hotels and beers ordered at pool-side bars.

"We've never needed (limits)," La Puente Councilman Louie Lujan said. "All of our council members have always acted professionally, always submitted receipts. We've never had any issues."

La Puente, which has 43,000 residents, and South El Monte, with 22,500 residents, have the largest budgets of all 17 cities, at $60,000 a year each.

South El Monte did not respond timely to a public records request made in July. Late Friday, the city released some documents that are being reviewed.

South El Monte Councilman Louie Aguinaga said their expense budget is justified because of the amount of commercial development occurring in the city.

"Because of the conferences we go to," Aguinaga said, "we are getting the money we deserve, and it has paid off."

Other cities with double, triple or even five times the number of residents have smaller budgets.

But Lujan said those numbers alone are difficult to compare.

"For each council in their respective cities, of course they vote on what works for them," Lujan said. "This works for us."

West Covina, Pasadena and El Monte all have populations of more than 100,000. West Covina's budget is $39,000, El Monte's is $30,000 and Pasadena's is $27,000. Whittier, with a population of 83,700, budgets $17,200 for meetings and travel.

"Considering we're not financially strapped ... we're pretty frugal," Whittier City Controller Rod Hill said. "It's not like they are just going to travel for the heck of it."

La Verne had the lowest travel budget reviewed with a total of $5,000 a year. Last year, council members spent $3,000 more than what was budgeted, but that number is still lower than all other cities.

"Some people would say that is exorbitantly cheap," said La Verne City Manager Martin Lomeli. "We have a city council who gets out to a lot of regional activities, but they just don't tend to travel a lot."

Not all cities follow that trend.

While most local council members travel to between three to five conferences a year, Rosemead Councilman John Nunez attended 22 conferences in two years.

"The way I see it is that I have a unique opportunity to attend conferences," he said. "I don't have small kids, I don't have a 60-hour job. I'm just trying to be a better city councilman."

The total cost of Nunez's trips could not be calculated due to the way Rosemead files expenses.

Nunez said the conferences allow him to network and learn about complex issues such as redevelopment.

"Sure, I could read a book about some of these things," he said. "But that would take me seven years."

These conferences are "extremely valuable," said Eva Speigel, spokeswoman for the League of California Cities.

"They have an opportunity to learn from experts, learn new ideas, hear from legislators, hear what is happening in the Capitol, and have the opportunity to network," Speigel said. "That is very important because they aren't able to do that just staying in their cities."

But attending conferences does not always come with a high price tag, according to officials.

Baldwin Park, Diamond Bar, West Covina, El Monte and Industry are a few of the cities that have daily meal limit.

"In some instances, obviously you look and see there are those politicians that abuse the system," Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano said. "Personally, I think it's good for us to have this system in place. It not only monitors but reminds you this is public money."

Meal caps range from about $50 to $100 a day in the municipalities that have them.

Some policies allow for a slightly larger allowance in what are considered "high-cost cities."

"The meal limits establish a cost associated with those expenses and cap those costs at which the city will reimburse," Diamond Bar City Manager James DeStefano said.

In most cities, if council members go over their limit, they must pay for it. With these caps, municipalities take into consideration that food is often served free of charge to members attending conferences.

In West Covina, Councilman Mike Touhey was denied reimbursement for a $21 breakfast and a $23 lunch while at a conference in Monterey last year. The reason: those meals were "included in seminar itinerary," records show.

But such policies are not always followed.

While it has a $65-a-day limit for food, Rosemead paid for a $243.29 bill from Les Artise Steakhouse that was found on the invoice of Councilman John Nunez's bill while he stayed at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas in 2006.

Officials could not explain the expense.

"I think you'd go on what's sensible and reasonable," said Martin Saiz, a professor of political science at Cal State Northridge. "Certainly steak and lobster every night is a little excessive."

While at a conference in Las Vegas in May, a group of La Puente officials - including Lujan, Mayor Lou Perez, Councilwoman Renee Chavez, City Manager Carol Cowley and Assistant City Manager Gregg Yamachika - used about $700 of taxpayer money for dinner at Ceasars Palace.

Some of the meals purchased included a $46 lamb chop plate, a $45 lobster plate and a $42 prime rib plate, receipts show.

"I had never been to Vegas before," Cowley said. "It was my first time so I had no clue of what restaurants were good ... I tried to look for restaurants with medium range so that we didn't go overboard and then I made the reservation at Nero's."

Cowley said she was floored by the menu prices and had not expected to pay that much.

La Puente has no meal limits. Lujan said they are too restrictive, considering council members are adults and should be trusted to use public funds accordingly.

If La Puente council members choose, they can spend $70 on organic greens, steak, sorbet and iced tea for dinner, as Mayor Perez did while at a conference in Indian Wells last year, receipts show.

Earlier that day, while visiting the Hadley Fruit Orchard in Cabazon, he spent an additional $20 on a hot dog, a shake, one pound of peaches and 12 ounces of apricots, records show.

Lujan said he purposely books his hotels on discount travel sites like so that he can spend a little extra on entrees like ahi tuna, salmon, vegetarian pizza and red snapper, as seen in his receipts.

He encourages council members in all cities to take advantage of every penny of their expense budgets.

"I know some council members (in general) that don't use their full budget for fear of scrutiny," Lujan said. "I wish they would just get over it."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, October 28, 2007

Workers claim City Hall is hostile to employees

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD -- Two men who are suing Rosemead for unpaid wages said "intimidation" and "fear" pervade City Hall.

Longtime Rosemead employees Randy Haro, who quit in May, and Robert Ballin, who is on disability, filed a lawsuit against the city nearly three weeks ago.

In the lawsuit, Haro and Ballin allege that the city failed to pay them -- as well as up to 40 other employees -- in both regular and overtime wages.

"I want what I deserve," said Ballin, a Baldwin Park resident. "This city was a beautiful city to work for. Now, forget it."

The city is investigating the allegations, said City Manager Oliver Chi.

"We've referred this over to the (Joint Powers Insurance Authority) and our legal counsel," Chi said Friday. "And we're auditing our financial records."

Haro, 46, said he believes the city owes him at least $40,000.

"But it isn't about the money, it's the principle," Haro said.

In the last two years, both employees, who have worked nearly 30 years combined, said that after an upheaval among the staff and city council, they were encouraged to quit, did not receive raises and took a cut in benefits.

"I feel there is a hostile work environment," Haro said. "It is very uncomfortable, and people are very afraid to say anything because they think they'll get fired."

Similar claims surfaced recently from Councilman Gary Taylor, who alleges that a private investigator reported city employees were exposed to a hostile work environment and stayed silent in fear of getting fired.

Mayor John Tran said he thinks Haro is just "jumping on the bandwagon with Gary, which is a shame."

Tran added that since the staff is not hired by the council, there is no direct authority over the employees.

Councilwoman Margaret Clark, who has been on the council for nearly 17 years, disagrees.

"The hostile work environment is definitely there," Clark said. "Maybe a change in the council would solve it."

The city received the lawsuit Oct. 3. It was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 25.

It alleges employees were asked to work "off-the-clock." On other occasions they were paid "straight-time instead of time and one-half their regular rates of pay when performing work in excess of 40 hours per week -- or not paid at all," the lawsuit states.

City Manager Chi said there was never any indication during prior discussions with Haro or Ballin that they were not being paid.

"Employees generally know if they are not being compensated," Chi said. "If this would have been happening, I am sure we would have heard about it sooner."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, October 14, 2007

Council votes to report member

ROSEMEAD - A councilman could be ousted from office if a grand jury finds that he was violating the state's open-meeting laws, experts said Wednesday.

The City Council voted 3-1-1 Tuesday to report Gary Taylor to the Los Angeles County grand jury for releasing confidential information about sexual harassment allegations against Councilman John Nunez.

Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, a nonprofit, open-government organization, said if Taylor is found guilty of violating the Ralph M. Brown Act, he could lose his seat.

"It is a little like a local impeachment," Francke said.

The Brown Act is the state's open-meeting law.

Nunez joined Mayor John Tran and City Councilwoman Polly Low in voting to send the case to the grand jury. City Councilwoman Margaret Clark voted against the move. Taylor abstained.

Council members allege Taylor leaked private information to the public during repeated verbal and written requests for an investigative sexual harassment report. The report was presented during a closed-door meeting in April.

"I'd like to refer Gary Taylor to the grand jury for criminal prosecution for violating the Brown Act," Low said.

The confidential report included comments from staff members who were interviewed by a private investigator hired after a finance employee accused Nunez of sexual harassment. Nunez denies the claim.

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia said releasing such confidential information is a violation of the Brown Act and could be punished as a misdemeanor.

Garcia said the city will file a complaint with both the District Attorney's Office and the grand jury.

Deputy District Attorney Dave Demerjian, head of the public integrity division, said that while the City Council could report Taylor to the grand jury, Taylor can't be criminally prosecuted.

"Releasing confidential information is not a crime," said Demerjian, who added he has not received a complaint from Rosemead against Taylor.

According the Brown Act, a person may not disclose information presented and discussed during a closed-session meeting. Punishments for violating the prohibition include injunctive relief, disciplinary action or referral to the county grand jury.

The council's action Tuesday satisfies requests by Taylor, who previously challenged the council to report him the grand jury with the hope that information released in the investigative report would be made public.

"You have jeopardized all the employees of Rosemead," Taylor said on Tuesday. "The truth is going to come out now or later."

Taylor thanked the council for its decision.

"Thank you, Mrs. Low," Taylor said. "The grand jury is on its way."

Francke said if the case goes forward, a prosecutor would have to lay out what was reported during closed session and what was disclosed by Taylor.

"Ultimately, if this were to be tried, they would have to be very specific," Francke said, "and have to disclose what was learned in closed session."

During open meetings in recent months, Taylor alleged that an investigator, Tess Elconin, reported during a closed-session meeting that the city employees were exposed to a hostile work environment and stayed silent for fear of being fired.

In an Oct. 2 letter to the City Council, Taylor requested that the council authorize Elconin to complete the report.

"If the City Council agrees to completing the report it will protect your integrity and honesty," he wrote.

Low, who made the motion to recommend Taylor to the grand jury, said she was frustrated and disappointed with his repeated violations of the law.

"We had to put a stop to this," Low said after the meeting Tuesday night.

Tran admonished Taylor Tuesday night.

"You should be ashamed of yourself," Tran said. "You broke the law and compromised the taxpayers."

City Manager Oliver Chi said he expects the complaints to be filed by the end of the next week.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, October 11, 2007

Report: Workers in hostile setting
Councilman calling for expanded inquiry

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - An investigator found that city employees were exposed to a hostile work environment and stayed silent for fears of getting fired, a councilman claims.

Rosemead Councilman Gary Taylor, in a letter to the council, said Tess Elconin was concerned about statements employees made during her investigation into a sexual harassment claim lodged against Councilman John Nunez. Taylor said "many of the 22 employees gave information of a hostile work environment."

Taylor has requested a public copy of Elconin's findings. He now wants her to expand her investigation.

"(Elconin) is concerned about items above and beyond Nunez," he said Monday.

Nunez declined to comment on Taylor's request.

"That is something my lawyers are working with," he said.

Elconin started the review in March. Nunez denies all the allegations.

The City Council is expected to vote today on whether the investigator should expand her inquiry.

"I believe the entire City Council is guilty of misfeasance by not taking actions to protect the Rosemead employees," Taylor wrote in an Oct. 2 letter to the council.

City Clerk Nina Castruita said no claims related to harassment or a hostile work environment have been filed within the past six months.

Councilwoman Polly Low said Taylor can have access to the information in closed-session meetings.

"There is no cover-up," Low said. "My problem is that he doesn't have all the information and is making assumptions."

At a Sept. 25 meeting, Elconin presented council members with a report in a closed-door meeting. Taylor refused to attend, saying he wants the information made public. At an earlier meeting, he said the findings should be sent to the District Attorney's Office or another law enforcement agency. That request was denied.

"I've exhausted my avenues in the city of Rosemead," Taylor said. "I'll ask (the city attorney) what he recommends."

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia previously accused Taylor of violating state law by releasing private information.

The councilman challenged the city to file a complaint with the DA if they believed he broke the law.

"I'm hoping to get this straightened out so employees aren't fearful of talking about anything," Taylor said. "I'm trying to find out what they're doing to our employees."

Pasadena Star News, October 9, 2007

Wal-Mart supporters to stay active
Group getting early start on '09 elections

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Jean Hall arrived at a Denny's early Tuesday morning, with a Rosemead Partners sign in one hand and a plastic bag from Wal-Mart stuffed with papers in the other.

The Rosemead resident is a regular at the meetings for the group, a political-action committee whose stated aim is "To support quality candidates in elections affecting Rosemead citizens."

Even if that election is nearly two years away.

When Hall stepped into a reserved room at 5:45 a.m., she was greeted by Les Gentry, who prepared for the meeting by pouring pretzels into bowls.

Nearly 30 longtime residents, including council members Gary Taylor and Margaret Clark, attended and said hello to old friends, ordered their coffee, iced teas or raspberry lemonades, and waited for the bi-weekly meeting to kick off.

"We started coming here for Wal-Mart," said Mary Ellen Dundas, who has lived in the city for 37 years. "And then we kept on coming."

For nearly five years, members from the Rosemead Partners, an offshoot of the former Rosemead Pride group, have met at the Denny's at 3643 Rosemead Blvd.

Their efforts started as a way to support bringing in the Wal-Mart Supercenter. But since the construction of the store - an issue that nearly divided the city - their mission has shifted.

Now, the latest in Rosemead Partners' activism has focused on getting the attention of residents by sending out fliers that discuss proposed city ordinances and developments.

They mailed fliers to hundreds of residents, which prompted people to show up at council meetings.

But the fliers also sparked criticism from the city.

City Manager Oliver Chi said the city spent nearly $7,000 sending letters to residents to clarify certain information on the fliers. Mayor John Tran and Councilwoman Polly Low have called Rosemead Partners irresponsible.

But some residents disagreed.

"If I didn't get this sent to my house," Katrina Padilla-Sornoso said about information on one flier, "I wouldn't have known about it."

Now Rosemead Partners is gearing up for an election that is still two years away. The terms for Tran and Councilman John Nunez expire in 2009.

On Tuesday, members of the group Partners discussed ways to suspend Nunez, who is being sued for sexual harassment, and how to stop Tran and Nunez from being re-elected.

Ly on Tuesday announced they would soon be filing for a tax-exempt status from the IRS. They would also start distributing a quarterly newsletter as soon as they could raise more money.

Wal-Mart - the business that first motivated them to organize and support - is also one of the contributors that has kept Rosemead Partners alive today.

In March, Wal-Mart contributed $4,000 to the political- action group. In February, it received $4,300 from Rosemead Pride, a Rosemead political action group that received $55,000 from Wal-Mart in 2005, according to finance documents.

Tran said the group shows that the democratic system works.

"We live in a country where there is freedom of speech," Tran said. "It is unfortunate that they have to stoop very low and distribute misinformation and scare people."

Todd Kunioka, a Rosemead planning commissioner and community activist, has sat on another political action group, Save Our Community.

"To the extent that Rosemead Partners is trying to increase participation in government is a good thing," he said. "But they shouldn't be trying to run an election this early. We have a new council majority, and we should let them govern."

"We will consistently be going toward doing this until election day itself," said Rosemead Partners President Steven Ly.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, October 7, 2007

Claremont loses two staff members

Will Bigham

CLAREMONT - Two staff members at Claremont City Hall have signed on to work for the city of Rosemead, where former Claremont staff member Oliver Chi was recently named city manager.

Matt Hawkesworth, Claremont's treasurer, has been hired as one of Rosemead's two assistant city managers. His last day in Claremont will be Oct. 5.

Aileen Flores, who served as Claremont's community information coordinator, has already begun working in Rosemead as the city's public affairs manager.

"There's only two, so it's not an incredibly high number (of Claremont staff members)," Chi said. "But the reason both Matt and Aileen are here is that they're talented people."

"During your career, if you're smart you'll keep a notebook of people who get it, who buy into a philosophy that you believe in," Chi added.

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, September 28, 2007

City Hall roll call continues to change

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Promotions, resignations and depleted departments continue to remake City Hall.

A new Rosemead top executive was hired in August to replace fired City Manager Andrew Lazzaretto, two department heads recently quit and temporary employees have been called upon to fill positions opened due to staff departures.

The employee shifts come after the March elections that resulted in a new City Council majority. And according to City Manager Oliver Chi, 27, who was appointed last month, more changes are on the way.

Chi was hired by Lazzaretto more than a year ago as deputy city manager and was interim city manager for two months before his recent appointment.

"For politicians, when that type of upheaval happens, it's viewed as a bad thing," Chi said. "But this is a necessary growth, and the organization is becoming leaner and stronger."

Departments are operating without directors and with fewer staff, while employees are taking on multiple roles, he said.

"We are stretched thin," Chi said.

Councilwoman Margaret Clark and some residents said the number of staff changes in such a short time is concerning, but Councilwoman Polly Low said it is positive for the community.

"Many people are uncomfortable with the change," Low said. "But I encourage staff and residents to see that we are doing the best we can to improve the city and City Hall."

One promotion recently finalized is the appointment of Brian Saeki to assistant city manager.

Saeki formerly served as the redevelopment agency's deputy executive director. He will also serve as the community development director.

Chi on Friday announced the hiring of Matt Everling to take the position of the planning services administrator, and Aileen Flores will serve as the city's public affairs manager.

The addition of Everling comes after Brad Johnson, who served as the city's planning director, resigned. His last day with Rosemead was Sept. 3. Johnson has refused comment on his resignation.

As for the director of finance department, that position is still not filled. The finance department has seen continual changes since the resignation in December of Karen Ogawa, who served as the director for 16 years. Since then, the department has seen two interim directors.

Lisa Pedote, the interim finance director, resigned Aug. 6. Her position was filled by Mike Yelton for just five days before he said family problems prevented him from returning to work.

Temporary employee Steve Brisco is performing the duties of the director, Chi said.

"I've been impressed with Steve," Chi said. "He's done everything he could to help us during this transitional period."

Brisco could be considered for the department head position, Chi said.

Brisco served as Placentia's finance director for nearly five years. He resigned from the position in 2005 after the city was audited for amending a gasoline tax report that hid a $1.2 million deficit and that recorded a $2.3million rail projects loan that belonged elsewhere, according to the Orange County Register.

Brisco reported the corrected accounting to the state in October, and the state accepted Brisco's reasoning that the money was correctly spent on part of the rail project, according to the Register. Two city employees were later indicted in connection with the rail projects, according to the Register.

Chi said he knew about the situation but noted Brisco was not involved.

"If there was any malfeasance," Chi said, "Steve would have been the one indicted, not the one testifying against the ones being indicted."

A vacancy in Rosemead's finance department was also created a few months ago by employee Valerie Mazone, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city and Councilman John Nunez. Mazone has been on a leave of absence since April.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, September 23, 2007

Attorney fees remain high

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - City attorney fees remain high despite shifts in billing practices and the hiring of a new lawyer.

Bonifacio Garcia of Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz was hired in April to represent Rosemead and its redevelopment agency. In four months, he has charged the city nearly $137,000. This includes an invoice dated Sept. 3 for $37,286, and a $52,677 bill for work done in May.

Rosemead has budgeted legal fees at $265,000 for the 2007-08 fiscal year. If Garcia's billing trend continues, fees could cost the city as much as $500,000 dollars for one year, starting from the attorney's hiring date.

Garcia did not return phone calls for comment.

In part because of the high fees, the City Council decided to cap Garcia's monthly bill at $30,000, and as of Sept. 1, a new law firm was taking over duties for the redevelopment agency.

But city officials now can't seem to agree just where Garcia's responsibilities end.

City Manager Oliver Chi said Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired last month, replacing Garcia, to represent the city on all land use, housing and redevelopment issues.

"The planning commission handles land-use related issues," Chi said.

But Garcia's firm has continued to provide legal advice at the planning commission meetings. His contract required that he attend all planning commission meetings. In a revised contract, effective Sept. 1, that was redacted.

Mayor John Tran and Councilman John Nunez said they intend for Garcia to remain as attorney of the planning commission.

"As far as I understand, he will continue to represent the planning commission," Nunez said. "The redevelopment agency is separate from the planning commission."

Joe Montes, an attorney from Burke, Williams and Sorensen, will soon be representing the city's planning commission meetings, Chi said.

Montes did not return calls.

"We are in the process of transferring all of the planning commission related items to Joe Montes," Chi said. "This should be done by the next planning commission meeting."

Councilwoman Margaret Clark said she thinks Garcia is milking the city's coffers.

"I would like Burke, Williams and Sorensen to take over all of the attorney representation for the city," Clark said. Now, "we would be paying double for some of the same research on the same issues."

A May billing statement shows that Garcia charged $7,478 for preparation and attendance of two planning commission meetings.

Clark believes that Garcia is being "nitpicky" with his legal fees.

"Where is all the money going?" Clark said.

Nunez attributes the fees to changes in City Hall.

"There's a lot going on in the city," Nunez said. "I think the costs are justified because he is doing a lot of work that is over and above in the last couple of months."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, September 22, 2007

Council to get reports in sex harassment case

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The City Council on Tuesday night approved a councilman's request to get copies of two sexual harassment investigative reports.

But whether those reports - compiled from testimony from 22 city employees - can be taken out of closed session meetings is yet to be determined.

That decision will be up to attorney Jeffrey Thompson, who was hired to represent the city in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Councilman John Nunez.

Councilman Gary Taylor's ongoing requests for the reports intensified when the city denied all allegations in a lawsuit made by city employee Valerie Mazone, who alleges she was sexually harassed by Nunez for more than one year.

The reports were created by a private investigator hired to interview employees after the sexual harassment claim and lawsuit was filed against Nunez and the city.

Taylor said that information released in a closed session meeting by the private investigator contradicts the city's response to the lawsuit, and that the written reports will further prove that.

"I honestly believe there's a cover-up here," Taylor said Tuesday.

The investigator at a previous closed session meeting read the reports to the council members, but council members have not seen them.

Taylor would not elaborate on what is in the reports, but read a letter Tuesday to the council explaining that the council members have a right to that information.

He also said he believed the city attorney was overstepping his boundaries by not providing the report to them.

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia has said a previous request for a written report was denied because Taylor, as an individual, "wasn't entitled to it."

If the majority of the council decided it wanted a copy of the report, Garcia said, then that could be granted.

Councilwoman Polly Low said she wanted a copy of the report but, in the interest of protecting the case, she would prefer it be released during a closed session meeting.

Taylor has refused to go into closed session meetings on the topic, and said Tuesday he will not go into future closed session meetings.

On Tuesday, Taylor also requested a copy of the reports be sent to the grand jury, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, the state Attorney General's Office, and the state Department of Justice.

His request to send it to other agencies was denied by the council members. Garcia said sending that to those agencies would be a "waiver of privilege."

The City Council approved releasing the reports on a 3-1 vote, with Nunez abstaining. Taylor dissented, however, because he wants the reports made available in open session.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, September 12, 2007

Mayor criticized on agenda request
Discussion on final discretion for Tran postponed

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - A proposal to change how the city prepares its agendas was pulled after some complained and called it "undemocratic."

Mayor John Tran wanted to require that items for the agenda be submitted eight days before a meeting. Tran also wanted final discretion on items, along with the city manager.

But after criticism from council members, tonight's scheduled public hearing on the matter was postponed. The council will take up discussion at a later date.

"It wasn't an attempt to give the mayor more control," Tran said. "It was an opportunity to clean up the ordinance."

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia said the "current ordinance is vague," and that a new ordinance would provide clarity.

The current ordinance requires anyone who wishes to bring matters before the council submit it in writing by noon four days before the council meeting.

The City Clerk then places it on the agenda.

"It was not an attempt to silence the residents," Tran said of the proposal. "I think that it was blown out of proportion."

"I have a real problem with this," Councilwoman Margaret Clark said. "I've been the mayor four times, and I never wanted the power to censure." proposed ordinance also states that any item requested by a majority of the council members shall be included on the agenda.

"We're really walking a fine line of censorship," Councilman Gary Taylor said.

Some said they felt this could be a violation of the state open-meeting laws.

"That is in effect silencing anyone with an issue the mayor or city manager don't like," Clark said.

Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, an open meeting watchdog group, said the proposal is not a violation.

"If someone wants an item on the agenda, and he or she is either for something or against something, so what?" Francke said. "That is one member's inclination of his or her disposition."

Besides wanting to give staff more time to collect information to prepare the agenda, Tran said requests to get items on the agenda had previously been stifled, and he wanted to avoid that.

Council members said that was one of the reasons why former City Manager Andrew Lazzaretto was fired.

"We had some issues in the past," Tran said. "Gary Taylor requested that items be placed on the agenda and those were refused."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, September 11, 2007

Conflict of interest in school deal?

By Jennifer Mclain

ROSEMEAD -- A deal that appears to benefit the community, Garvey School District and East Los Angeles College also raises questions about the involvement of the mayor and city attorney.

The city on Tuesday granted permission to the Garvey School District to use Dan T. Williams Elementary School as a satellite campus for ELAC.

The deal came after years of negotiating, said Garvey school board member Bob Bruesch.

It will help Garvey supplement a $512,000 budget shortfall and satisfies ELAC's demand for more classes.

But questions surfaced over the city's and school district's legal representation as well as to a possible $20,000 that Rosemead Mayor John Tran will make from the agreement.

Tran, who served on the Garvey School Board until he left in 2005 to take a seat on the City Council, is a Realtor and served as negotiator between Garvey and ELAC.

"There is nothing wrong with a former trustee acting as a negotiator," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a watchdog group. "But an attorney can't represent two clients on the same issue. He would have to disqualify himself."

City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia's firm, which represents the Garvey School District, was expected to provide legal counsel for the city's planning commission meeting. But shortly before the meeting, City Manager Oliver Chi said he called another attorney to represent the city on that particular issue. Garcia's firm dealt with the rest of the agenda.

Joe Montes of Burke, Williams and Sorensen was hired last month to take Garcia's place as the city's redevelopment agency lawyer and to be the counsel to the planning commission. However, Montes was not scheduled to start his new position for another two weeks, Chi said.

The potential for conflict of interest could have been there, interim Redevelopment Director Brian Saeki said, but it was avoided by having Montes serve as counsel instead of Garcia's firm.

George Yin, the attorney from Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz, recused himself from the agenda item.

"George Yin made a statement that he has never worked on the project and never provided any opinions on the subject to the (city)staff," Saeki said. "But he did recuse himself, and Joe Montes stepped in and oversaw the proceedings."

Bruesch said the only thing Garcia's firm has done for Garvey in the land deal is, "helping us with dotting all of our 'I's' and crossing all our our 'T's'."

When Garcia was hired in April, council members questioned whether it was a conflict of interest for him to serve as counsel to Garvey School District and the city.

The day that Garcia was hired, Councilwoman Polly Low asked him: "Is there a conflict of interest for you to represent the city of Rosemead as well as the Garvey School District?"

Garcia said there wasn't, and in the event that there was an overlapping issue, "we would step back and .... advise that you bring other counsel to handle your relationship with the school district."

Residents also raised conflict-of-interest questions about the mayor's connection to the lease deal.

Steven Ly, president of a community group, Rosemead Partners, said that he sent out a letter to several hundred neighbors informing them of the possible change in use to Williams School. He also noted Tran's involvement.

"We view what is going on as a conflict of interest," Ly said. "(Tran) will be profiting a large commission."

Tran, who will receive up to 4percent of the $500,000 deal, said that he has been upfront with staff and council members.

"This is another erroneous attempt to mislead and deceive the public once again," Tran said of Rosemead Partners, formerly known as Rosemead Guardians. "The Rosemead Guardians should be ashamed of themselves."

He also said that he plans on recusing himself from the council meeting if this comes.

Stern said as long as Tran doesn't participate in the vote and doesn't tell his colleagues how to vote, he is within the law.

"I told everybody not to mention ELAC in front of me," Tran said. "If it gets approved, I will recuse myself."

Though the mayor said the district contacted him, Bruesch said that Tran approached the district.

"He is a Realtor, and before he went into politics, that is what he did," Bruesch said. "When he said he would negotiate the lease for us it seemed logical because he knew both parties and could work through the issues."

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, September 9, 2007

Sexual harassment report could be released

By Jennifer McLain, Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - The City Council on Tuesday will consider a councilman's request for a harassment investigative report.

Councilman Gary Taylor has asked City Attorney Bonifacio Garcia for a written report by a private investigator. The report was about sexual harassment claims made by a city employee against Councilman John Nunez.

Valerie Mazone, who filed the lawsuit, alleges she was sexually harassed by Nunez for more than one year. The city and Nunez deny the allegations.

Taylor said the information could help protect Rosemead staff and the city. Garcia discouraged the release, stating it could jeopardize the city's defense.

"The City Council is required by law to protect the rights of employees from abuse due to allowing a hostile work environment," Taylor wrote in a Sept. 4 letter addressed to the council. "This information that the special investigator stated is now being withheld at the expense and possible loss of employees' jobs."

In the letter, Taylor said the council has the right to the information. Garcia has said a previous request for a written report was denied.

Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said denial is "strange." "It's quite a position he has taken," Ewert said. "I don't think I have ever heard of this where the city attorney has refused to give information to the city council."

Taylor said he has the right to the information.

"The (investigative report) is not a public record," Taylor said. "The letter is a document that the elected five-member City Council has a responsibility and obligation to review very carefully to decide what actions need to be taken."

The councilman said he is not asking as a member of the public and that he does not understand why no one has a copy. Ewert said council members should have all the information before they take action.

At previous meetings, Taylor said that he believes the information in an oral report given to the council was inconsistent with the city's response to the lawsuit. Once the report is given to all parties, it will become public record, experts said. A final status conference pertaining to the lawsuit is set for May 2, and the trial is scheduled for May 12.

Whittier Daily News, September 8, 2007

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