Placentia : Critic Says Officials Barred Look at Records

Self-proclaimed city watchdog Gary Arnold has called for the suspension of Placentia City Manager Roger Kemp and City Atty. John Harper, alleging that officials have denied him access to public records.

Arnold said he was not permitted to inspect financial documents, including City Council expense records and the city’s “check registry.” He said he will appear before the City Council tonight to argue for access to the records and to seek the suspension of Kemp and Harper until “a full investigation has been completed.”

Finance Director Frank B. Dunnavant said he has denied some records to Arnold but only when the requests would have required considerable time for a city employee to compile information. Dunnavant said he made the decisions on his own and not at the direction of Kemp or Harper.

Kemp said the council next month may consider a measure to authorize charging for time-consuming searches of public records by city employees, which would enable complex requests such as Arnold’s to be fulfilled. Until adopting such an ordinance, Kemp said, the city has no legal way to recover the costs.

Arnold also has questioned the propriety of Harper picking up automobile tires at the city maintenance yard after buying the tires from Councilman Richard E. Buck, an executive with B.F. Goodrich Co.


Buck said that at Harper’s request, he sold him tires at wholesale prices, as he had done previously for Councilman Robert W. Kuznik. Buck said he made no personal profit from the transactions and that he left the tires at the city yard as a convenience to Harper, who does not live in Placentia. Harper and Buck said the transaction posed no legal conflicts.

Arnold is a Santa Cruz publisher who has been a vocal critic of city officials in Placentia, where Arnold has business interests. Last year he accused city officials of conflicts of interest and of conducting “backroom politics.” The council directed the city attorney to initiate an investigation of Arnold, but the state Fair Political Practices Commission and Orange County district attorney’s offices found no grounds for prosecution.

The council also rejected a $750,000 claim for damages in which Arnold alleged that the investigation infringed on his First Amendment rights. Arnold is associated with at least three politically active groups, Placentia Citizens for Civic Responsibility, Citizens’ Watch and Placentia Watch, which all give a Placentia post office box as an address.