The need to end what critics have termed a closed, unresponsive style of government is the unifying thread running through most candidates' platforms for the April 2 elections here, where two of the City Council's five seats are being contested.
Among the seven candidates, only incumbent District 1 Councilman Daniel K. Tabor represents the council majority. Incumbent Anthony Scardenzan, representing District 2, is generally regarded as an outsider, and is often the lone dissenting vote on the council.
Challengers in both districts say they would like to see a shift toward a more open style of government, with more discussion during council meetings and greater resident participation.
Tabor, who faces two challengers in his bid for a second term, acknowledged that council members "usually talk about the issues among ourselves and pretty much have our minds made up by the time we come to the meeting," but he defended the method as one that he is "comfortable" with.
His view extends to one of the council's most controversial recent decisions--to award Western Waste Industries a lucrative $11-million contract without competitive bidding or public hearings. The decision also effectively dismantled the city's own Sanitation Department.
Tabor said that while he "regreted not having taken more time with the decision, I don't think a public hearing would have added anything. We negotiated a deal that was in the best interests of the city. I'm comfortable with the decision we made and the manner in which we made it."
But the decision has drawn a storm of protest from citizens and has become a focal point of candidates' platforms in both districts as an example of the city's closed style of government.
The District 1 contest is the more spirited of the two.
Candidate Yvonne Mitchell, thought by many to pose the more serious threat to Tabor, said residents have become increasingly unhappy with what she described as an "inflexible" council.
'Very Cocky' Council
"No matter how many people show up at a meeting, or what they say, the City Council will not reconsider its actions," she said. "That has become an established trend in this government. That's really why I'm running. The people no longer have a say in matters pertaining to the city. In fact, what they say is often discounted and they are openly ridiculed at council meetings. The present council is very cocky. They are not governing for the people, but for themselves."
Mitchell, 31, an independent financial consultant, said that with eight years' experience as a budget analyst for Los Angeles County, she would use her background to take a "hard look" at the city's budget priorities and to reform what she considers "slipshod practices" among the city staff.
"The report I saw on Western Waste was a loosely documented, two-page report that in no way contained the kind of detail needed to make a responsible decision," Mitchell said. "To a trained eye, it was obvious that the report was hastily done. We need to demand a much more professional product."
Mitchell, president and co-founder of the Inglewood Image Assn., a resident booster group, said her priorities include establishing "an honest, completely open form of government," resolving the long-standing feud between the City Council and the Inglewood Unified School District, and promoting steady, controlled growth in the city.
Tabor disagrees that the city government is closed or unresponsive to residents. Instead, he said, the council majority just prefers a more "harmonious" style of governing.
"I would like to see more participation on the part of residents," he said, "but we just don't like a lot of infighting done out in the open. That sort of thing can be negative and destructive."
Tabor, 30, said that he is interested not only in promoting growth, but in "repackaging" the city as "a progressive city interested in investment dollars and consumer dollars."
To do that, he said, city government will have to take a more active role in promoting existing attractions--such as the Forum and Hollywood Park Race Track--and in highlighting its more positive features.
"We need to help build an image of Inglewood as a positive, pleasant place to live," Tabor said. "and get away from this image of Inglewood as a crime-riddled, drug-riddled urban slum.
"A tremendous number of people pass through this city every day, and we don't really take advantage of that. For one thing, I would like to see us emerge as a major conference center. Why should people coming in from the airport go all the way to Long Beach or Anaheim for their conventions?"
Tabor said he would attempt to promote existing hotels in the city as potential conference sites and possibly encourage builders to construct a major conference facility in the area.
Other goals, he said, include increasing the number of police officers, developing more youth programs, "bringing people closer to the workings of city government by informing them of city services available to them and showing them how to use the system" and continuing the Communicating Values program which promotes certain family and community values.
A longtime vegetarian, Tabor said he also wants to implement an urban gardens project that would teach residents about nutrition and growing their own food.
Tabor worked as a part-time personnel manager for a government-funded medical research program until last June. He is currently unemployed.
As an incumbent, Tabor said, he has already built "a base of understanding" with other council members, and said he now expects to be "a little more independent."
Tabor's second opponent, Donald McClure, feels he has already earned the job.
"I've been the unofficial city councilman in this district all along," the 39-year-old McClure said. "I'm only looking to make it official."
Talking to People
McClure, who operates a communications firm that takes talent and fashion shows to prisons, maintains that he is the one that people in the district turn to when they have problems.
"I'm the one they call when they need a roof fixed, or want to know about a city service, or how to patent an idea," he said.
"I think my vision and concepts have more concrete substance. Danny (Tabor) seems to be into intangible things . . . communicating values, teaching nutrition. That's important, but we have a substantive need for alarm services, jobs for youth, business skills programs and hands-on programs as opposed to intangible slogan-type things."
McClure said that he believes the community is more upset over the Western Waste decision than Tabor or the rest of the council realizes.
"I think it will result in an upset over Tabor and will be the beginning of dominoes falling in this council," he said. "This is the beginning of the end of the council majority that voted for Western Waste."
McClure said he decided to seek political office for the first time in part because of the Western Waste decision and because he believes Tabor "has lost touch with the real needs in the district."
If elected, McClure said, he will "examine the mess we've gotten ourselves into at this point," attempt to restrict what he believes is "the increasing amount of power that has fallen into the hands of the city manager (Paul Eckles)." Beyond that, McClure said, he intends to "just meet whatever needs arise in the district."
In District 2, Scardenzan faces three challengers.
The sole vote against the Western Waste decision, Scardenzan said that he too is disturbed at what he sees as a trend toward shutting residents out of the workings of the council.
"We need to listen to the people more," he said. "I don't think the council should have its mind made up before it hears what the people have to say. Several times I have taken positions alone on the council to try to preserve honesty and openness on the council. I fought against raising property taxes alone. I fought against the Western Waste contract because the council didn't go for competitive bidding. I don't think that was fair to the taxpayers.
"I want to see the city get the most for the dollar, but it has to be done in an open way," he said.
Scardenzan, 57, who is completing his first term, said that among the projects he wants to pursue are the Inglewood Technical Institute program, where major corporations such as TRW and Rockwell train youths as machinists and tool and die makers and teach them other skills.
Scardenzan, himself the owner of a tool and die shop in Gardena, said that he was trained in a similar apprentice program in his native Italy.
"Not every kid goes to college," he said, "and we need to make sure those kids learn a trade where they can make a good living for themselves. Education is everybody's business. With a program like this, these kids are not just floating around with no skills, no future. That's my biggest dream--to see these kids make something of themselves."
In the area of crime, Scardenzan said he would like to see the Police Department begin a foot patrol in the downtown shopping area and beef up patrols in the city's parks. The first-term councilman said he also wants to continue working with the district's 47 Neighborhood Watch clubs, with which he is heavily involved.
Other goals, he said, include working with the school district to begin an after-school program for children who would otherwise go home to an empty house. The program, he said, would include not only recreational activities, but also instruction in useful household skills, such as how to make a simple dinner, light housecleaning, and what to do in an emergency.
Challenger Lee Smith, a former Inglewood planning commissioner, says she is positioning herself as "a real people's candidate."
While business, real estate and law and order concerns are represented on the council, Smith said, "nowhere do I see someone really representing consumers, parents and the elderly."
She would like to see a "Town Hall-type concept" implemented in the district, where residents could air their concerns and talk about issues.
Smith, who faced Scardenzan four years ago in a race against then-incumbent George Girard, claims that Scardenzan has not followed through on his promise to represent the interests of his constituents.
"I have nothing against Tony," she said. "I just think I can do a better job."
'More Positive Image'
Part of that job, she said, would be creating a "more positive image" for the city and reactivating public interest in the city's cable access channel. Smith, who declined to state her age, is part owner of an Inglewood-based computer project company.
Other District 2 candidates are political newcomers Jess Willard, a Los Angeles County tax collectors' deputy, and Andrew Chapralis, who operates an alarm service in the district.
Willard, 41, said he would like to use the local cable access channel to broadcast council meetings and forums among local Neighborhood Watch captains. In addition, he said, he wants to bridge the gap between the City Council and school district and between the city and residents.
"I really don't think we can accomplish much until we do that," he said. "After that's accomplished, my agenda would be set by the residents in the second district."
Chapralis, 59, said he has not formulated a complete platform yet, but would like to concentrate on crime prevention and "sprucing up the neighborhood."
"I'm in Inglewood virtually 24 hours a day. I think that puts me in closer touch with the district than someone who owns a business in Gardena," he said, referring to Scardenzan.
Candidate Andrew Chapralis did not reply to a request for a photograph.