A letter from Mayor Talmage Burke endorsing City Council candidate Boyd Condie has raised the ire of two other candidates.
Council candidate Allen Co, speaking at a City Council meeting Monday night, said the letter, printed on what looked like official city stationery, may have misled some residents into believing that it was a formal communication from the city of Alhambra.
Burke is running unopposed for a council seat in the 4th District. Condie, Co, and J. William Orozco are tangled in a 3-way race for a 3rd District seat. Orozco also questioned the use of the stationery.
Co said that although the letter was not illegal, "this abuse of the city's stationery for selfish political purposes is highly unethical and an example of extremely poor judgment by both the mayor and Mr. Condie."
Co said that he respects Burke's right to express his opinion but added, "Don't involve the city seal."
Immediately after Co delivered his prepared statement, Burke defended his actions.
"I consulted the city attorney of Alhambra to see if there are any problems, and he indicated there would be none," Burke said.
Assistant City Atty. Robert Wadden Jr. said that the state Fair Political Practices Act prohibits political mailings made at public expense but does not prevent officials from using their title or a facsimile of the city seal.
"What's the difference between the facsimile or the real thing?" Orozco asked in an interview Wednesday.
In the 7-paragraph endorsement letter that was mailed citywide last week, a facsimile of the city seal appears in the upper-left-hand corner. The letter identifies Burke as mayor and lists his home address.
A statement in small print at the bottom of the letter says, "Not printed or mailed at taxpayer expense."
While Burke acknowledged that the City Charter contains sections prohibiting city officers from endorsing political candidates, Wadden said those provisions have been overruled by a 1976 state law and should have been deleted from the charter.
Burke said the city attorney periodically recommends amendments to the charter, which are then voted on by the City Council. He said it probably was an oversight that the charter sections on political endorsements have not been deleted and that he will ensure that the oversight is corrected.
Condie said after the meeting that he was told Burke had been assured by the city attorney that there would be no legal problems with the endorsement letter. He said he appreciates Burke's support.
"I'm really surprised that there's any criticism about that, because it's done all the time during campaigns," Burke said. He said other public officials frequently send him letters that endorse political issues and candidates.
He said that the Condie endorsement is the first time that he has used mailings involving the city seal.
At Monday's meeting, Wadden was sitting in for City Atty. Leland Dolley, who had counseled Burke on the endorsement issue. The two attorneys work for the law firm of Burke, Williams & Sorensen. Mayor Burke said he is not related to anyone in the firm.