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Azusa Council Majority Fires Commissioner Who Ran Against Slate

Times Staff Writer

The three members of the new City Council majority, who ran as a slate in April, are keeping their campaign promise to change things if elected.

On Monday, the council fired a planning commissioner who was an unsuccessful candidate in the election, provoking charges from critics that the majority is trying to intimidate opponents at City Hall.

“During the campaign I said there were going to be some changes, and this is the start of it right now,” said Councilman Harry L. Stemrich, who initiated the ouster of Conrad Bituin from the Planning Commission.

“As long as I can get some support, I’m going to start with the Planning Commission and make a few changes there,” Stemrich said.

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Broke Up Majority

Stemrich and Tony Naranjo were elected to the council in the April election, breaking up a council majority that had often opposed Mayor Eugene F. Moses, who retained his office.

Stemrich said Bituin’s removal was warranted because the commission was stagnant and a new direction in city planning was needed.

Stemrich also renewed his effort to remove legal notices from the Azusa Herald. He claims that the paper is biased against him and his two council allies and has exerted undue influence on city politics.

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Councilman Bruce Latta, the only remaining member of the old council majority, cast the sole supporting vote for Bituin.

Latta charged that Bituin was ousted in retaliation for his candidacy, which took some votes away from the slate. Bituin finished sixth in a field of seven candidates that also included Planning Commissioner Mike Falletta.

“Why don’t you ask everyone to resign?” said Latta, who ran unsuccessfully against Moses for mayor. “Why embarrass and harass the man at this time?”

Wants Terms Completed

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Latta suggested that although the new council may differ with Bituin and others, no changes should be made until their terms expire.

Stemrich said he had no plans to fire other planning commissioners, pending some major decisions.

Bituin, who was appointed by Moses to the Planning Commission in 1986 to fill an unexpired term, said he was fired because he ran against the mayor’s ticket.

“It’s political, plain and simple. I thought the election was over April 12,” said Bituin, whose term would have ended in June, 1989.

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Michael Castaneda, another planning commissioner and president of the East San Gabriel Valley Assn. of Planning Commissioners, also criticized Bituin’s ouster as politically motivated.

“I cannot believe there is one action (to justify) dismissing Conrad Bituin,” he said.

Stemrich denied that the move was politically motivated. “The reason is I don’t think the city’s going anywhere, and I’m going to make a change,” he said. “I don’t have a reason beyond that.”

Council Unity

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Moses said he was ambivalent about dismissing Bituin, adding that the primary reason he voted to fire him was to maintain council unity.

“On one hand I’d like to move things forward, and on the other hand I’d like to get the council together as a unit,” he said. “We have to get people we can work together with to get progress in the city.”

Councilwoman Jennie Avila, who voted with the majority, would not say why she voted to remove Bituin.

“I don’t have to give a reason,” she said. “I don’t have to explain it.”

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Stemrich said the commission’s membership should remain as it is now until after a decision is made on the Asuza Rock Co. quarry.

The Planning Commission is expected to make that controversial decision in June, when it will consider revoking the company’s 32-year-old permit to mine Fish Canyon. The quarry is owned by Kirst Construction Co. Citizens of Azusa and neighboring Duarte have been pressuring Azusa to end the excavation.

‘Won’t Be the Last’

“If we were going to get rid of (all the commissioners) at one time, we’d have some problems,” Stemrich said. “There may be one, two, three or four more” commissioners to be dismissed.

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Latta said it was only the beginning of a bloodletting.

“This won’t be the last one,” he said. “It’s obvious they’re trying to bring the Herald in line like they are trying to bring the commission in line,” he added.

Stemrich said Latta was trying to defend his allies. Planning Commissioner Lyle A. Mortiz was Latta’s campaign treasurer.

“Bruce is trying to protect others on the

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Planning Commission who worked on his campaign,” Stemrich said.

Previous Ouster

Stemrich and Moses said removing Bituin was no different from the 1986 ouster of Commissioner Helen G. Chapman by Latta and then-Councilmen Lucio Cruz and James Cook. Cruz and Cook, who often sided with Latta against Moses, lost their seats in the April election.

“She was doing nothing wrong,” Stemrich said. “People forget that it wasn’t too long ago that Bruce, Cruz and Cook took (Chapman) off, and it was political.”

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The difference, Latta said, was that the change was made when Chapman’s term expired.

Stemrich said he would propose an ordinance at the next council meeting to require all elected officials and appointed members of boards and commissions to step down before running for a city office.

“In our city, you can run for mayor and still retain your council seat,” he said. “I’m going to propose an ordinance that any member of a commission and any member of the council who runs for a higher office vacate their seat.”

Not on Agenda

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Stemrich tried to introduce his proposal as part of the motion that removed Bituin, but City Atty. Peter Thorson said the proposed ordinance could not be acted on because it was not on the agenda.

In renewing his opposition to the Azusa Herald, Stemrich asked for a list of who delivers the paper, which lists a circulation of 13,175. He said an examination of the paper’s circulation could provide the impetus to challenge its status as the paper in which legal notices must run under state law.

Two weeks ago, Stemrich proposed cutting all city ties to the Herald, which would include the legal notices and other advertising.

Stemrich took exception to coverage in the Herald of charges against Naranjo, who pleaded guilty in March to impersonating a Covina police officer. Naranjo was sentenced to one year’s probation and paid a $150 fine in connection with the 1986 incident. The paper supported rivals of the winning slate in the April 12 election.

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Civil Lawsuits

Stemrich also complained about a story in last week’s Herald about two civil lawsuits filed against Naranjo stemming from the sale of his restaurant in January.

Latta blasted the moves against the paper, saying Stemrich was attacking rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“I took an oath of office that I would uphold the Constitution. . .,” Latta said. “My question is, when are you going to start burning the books?”

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