Norwalk Official Talks of Retiring : New 'Liberals' Irk Council Veteran

Times Staff Writer

Bob White, the City Council's senior member, complains that fiscal conservatism is as out of style at City Hall these days as the baggy flannels he once wore as a minor-league baseball player.

White, who has served 17 years on the council after a 10-year career on New York Yankee farm teams, said in a recent interview that he is unhappy with his current "liberalized" colleagues on the council. White said he does not want to go on being the council's "lone wolf," and added that he may step down when his current four-year term expires in three years.

"The council now seems liberalized more than I can say I'm happy with," said White, who described himself as a "conservative Democrat."

"We're spending too much money. We don't do without a thing here in our City Hall."

Indeed, in recent months, White has found himself in a minority on many council decisions in this city of 86,300 residents.

In February, for example, White was on the losing end of a 4-1 vote to grant City Administrator Ray Gibbs a 10% salary increase. In an interview, White complained that Gibbs is a ".250 hitter" who is overpaid at $63,120 a year.

And last month, White also made the most vocal objections to the city's $15.5-million budget, which represented an 11% spending increase. Afterward, he ended up voting to approve the budget, which was adopted unanimously.

Subsidies Attacked

White said the budget contains money for too many new cars and too much new equipment. White also contends that the budget subsidizes too many city organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Norwalk All-City Band.

"I can't get used to being so extravagant," White said, after serving on the more fiscally and socially conservative councils of the 1970s. "There wasn't anything that was presented to the council that was turned down. Every one of those guys (city department heads) . . . got everything they wanted."

For fiscal year 1985-86, the budget calls for spending $132,000 for purchasing nine new vehicles, $110,000 for a computerized message board for City Hall and $11,000 for a voting scoreboard for council chambers.

White's remarks drew objections from other council members.

"I certainly feel that everything that was asked (for) was well justified," Mayor Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez said. "That's what we're here for, to provide services for people."

"If you can live within your income, you're doing all right," added council member Peg Nelson.

Conflict Alleged

White also complained that the council gave too much money to programs that benefit students in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, saying the district should pay for such programs. White added that Nelson, who usually votes and speaks in favor of such programs, has a conflict of interest because she is a part-time $17,686-a-year community involvement specialist for the district.

Nelson replied that she conferred with the city attorney about whether she should vote on such matters, and was told she could vote because her part-time job has "absolutely nothing to do with policy making or expenditures."

She added, "Anytime you can give young people the opportunity to do the very best they can, I'm in favor of it."

The council last month on a 4-1 vote, with White objecting, approved $11,000 to provide music, theater and arts classes for about 100 Norwalk students at the Academy of Performing Arts at Excelsior High School. The academy is co-sponsored by the school district. Last year, the council also unanimously approved $1,000 to send John Glenn High School cheerleaders to a national cheerleading contest in Dallas.

To White, 65, a 6-foot-7 Norwalk native, the spending policies at City Hall begin at the top, with City Administrator Gibbs.

Gibbs was hired in February, 1984, to replace Bill Kraus, who resigned after a decade as city administrator.

Gibbs started at $55,044 a year, Kraus' salary, and five months later, was granted a 4% raise. After a year on the job, he requested, and was given by the council, an additional 10% raise to $63,120 a year.

'Paying Too Much'

As far as White is concerned, taxpayers are paying too much for a "weak" city administrator.

"He (Gibbs) does the boilerplate routine pretty good. He pays the bills and has the department heads meetings and everything," White said, adding that Gibbs was "definitely not outstanding."

"He's not personable, he's shy, and he has a lousy personality . . . . He goes to a party and he'll sit over at his table with his wife and never come over and meet my wife unless I run into him in the chow line."

Gibbs replied that his salary was "the cost of doing business with a competent professional," adding that it was comparable to other city administrators and city managers in the area. He said he did cut the budget before submitting it to council members, but he declined comment on White's other remarks.

Rodriguez defended Gibbs, saying he was not a "typical social butterfly," but added that Gibbs was a "superior" administrator who had put together an excellent staff.

Objects to Increase

Objecting to support of the Chamber of Commerce, White takes issue with an appropriation of $67,000 for the group, an increase of 49% over last year. The higher sum includes a 15% increase for operating expenses and $20,000 for an industrial guide.

"When are we going to sever the umbilical cord to the chamber?" White said, adding that the chamber has become so dependent on the city for funds that it "tends to take away their manhood."

However, Rodriguez said it was "part of the city's responsibility to work shoulder to shoulder" with the business community, even if it meant donating money.

White also objects to donating $60,000 to the Norwalk All-City Band, a 50% increase over last year that comes on top of a council decision last December to donate $40,000 to the youth band to travel to Europe.

White said the band is too costly to support, and it doesn't perform enough songs.

"They don't even know 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' for the Little League opener," he said.

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