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Stroke of Bad Luck for Coronado: Clerk Doesn’t Type or Compute

Times Staff Writer

Coronado has a problem: Ed Wienecke can’t type a lick or work a computer, and he has no intention of learning how.

The problem is that Wienecke is the new city clerk, and in Coronado the city clerk is responsible for recording the votes and preparing the minutes of the City Council for posterity.

“I just don’t want to be a typist. I didn’t run to be a typist,” says Wienecke, an affable 69-year-old retired Air Force military judge and contracting officer who was elected to the clerk’s job in November.

Instead, he wants the city to hire him a permanent deputy, sort of a glorified secretary who would handle the typing, a task as traditionally bound to the clerk’s job as hammering is to carpentry.

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‘Excedrin Headache No. 800'

As might be expected, the council is months behind in its minutes, a situation that has some council members in a tizzy. Mayor Mary Herron said of the entire matter, “It’s Excedrin headache No. 800.”

Some, such as the local weekly newspaper, contend that the problem is of the council’s own making. After the previous city clerk, Tom Patricola, who was on the job for more than 20 years, retired in 1987, the council decided it was time to redefine the post.

With many of the clerk’s former duties, such as preparing agendas and other clerical work taken over in recent years by two city employees, the council sought to make the city clerk both a part-timer and a council appointee, rather than an elected official.

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Coronado voters, however, prevented that last June, when they turned down the council and decided to keep electing the clerk. So the council was left with a part-time clerk whom it couldn’t choose or control.

Into the political void entered Wienecke, a former lieutenant colonel and two-year resident of Coronado who beat two other contenders last fall and was elected to a four-year term. The stripped-down job, which the council continued tinkering with into September, was left with only a few responsibilities, including the state-mandated task of keeping a book of local ordinances, maintaining the city seal, running elections and, not least of all, keeping council minutes.

Wienecke just assumed he would have a helper, someone to handle the tedious chore of preparing council minutes, while he devoted himself to more weighty matters such as “records management.”

“But I found out I didn’t have one,” he said ruefully.

At his first council meeting, Wienecke found out what being Coronado city clerk was all about. The meeting droned on for 6 1/2 hours, he said, the politicians making their speeches and lodging their votes. But he was slipping, and fast.

“It was chaos, but no one knew that but me,” he said.

But the work was just beginning.

“Frankly, the meeting took me 60 to 70 hours to complete,” said Wienecke, who is paid $75 a week. “I didn’t have any idea what to expect. I didn’t have (a previous) incumbent to tell me. I went in cold.”

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Luckily for Wienecke, the council meeting is routinely taped for broadcast on the local cable company’s public access channel, and is also taped separately for sound. Using his VCR, Wienecke has been able to slowly piece together the meetings. (Wienecke, incidentally, has also contended that attending council meetings isn’t part of his duties.)

Bureaucratic Sing-Song

The result is a bureaucratic sing-song: If the minutes aren’t late, then they are wrong and unacceptable to the council.

By the middle of last month, it was clear to Wienecke and the council, which also works part time and whose members also receive $75 a week, that something had to be done to end the lack of a legal historical record, which was threatening to snuff out democracy in the placid bayside city of 20,000.

Wienecke asked the council for $500 a month until June to hire a helper who would compile the minutes. City Manager Homer Bludau didn’t like the idea. He asked Wienecke to take typing lessons, but Wienecke declined.

“The long-term solution is that he learn to type or find a way to do the job,” Bludau said. “He doesn’t feel he ran for city clerk to do this kind of work.”

The council in mid-February approved the allocation, and Wienecke has hired a woman in San Diego prepare the minutes. She relies on the broadcast tapes that Wienecke provides her. Wienecke says he is almost caught up now, although the council has yet to approve any minutes for this year.

What happens after the money runs out in June, no one knows. Wienecke just this week put in a budget request for about $20,000 to hire a deputy city clerk.

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“I think they should hire one. I want a full-time deputy,” he said. “I want to get involved in ordinance indexes and resolutions . . . records-management type of things.”

Wienecke, a former commissioner of beaches in Los Angeles, says he has visited almost all of the other city clerks in the county and that none have to work under his conditions. There’s an election in Coronado on Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the council, and Wienecke says that, as the town clerk, he is in charge of organizing it, though the bulk of the work will be done by the county registrar of voters. He’s had to communicate with the registrar’s office by phone.

“There’s no one here to type a memo to the registrar for me. I can’t type a memo,” he said. “This really is a Mickey Mouse operation.”

Whether that’s true or not, Mayor Herron said much of the clerk’s burden has fallen on other city workers.

“It falls on the shoulders of our city staff. What we have is a clerk in the city attorney’s office who gets them (minutes) in draft form,” she said. “A lot of people are picking up the work.”

“The job is different than what he thought,” she said. “He expected to be part of the political debate and interface with other agencies. But it’s not like that.”

Some council members, such as Herron and Lois Ewen, are reluctant to spend money to hire a full-time helper for Wienecke. “When we made the changes (to the clerk’s post), we felt a skilled technician was needed,” Ewen said, adding that Wienecke “has other skills, but none of those happen to be typing.”

“This is something that is taking a lot of our time and taking us away from more pressing issues, such as traffic,” she said.

One other thing: Wienecke recently asked the council to pay his way to Nova Scotia to attend an international convention of municipal clerks. The council said no, explaining that it had approved a policy last May not to pay for trips outside the United States. Wienecke thinks maybe the council is trying to tell him something.


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