911 Issue Triggers Tempers : Monterey Park: The council votes to grant itself power to override some Personnel Board actions. It came after the board rejected a plan to give hiring preference to bilingual dispatchers.
On paper, it appeared to be no more than a bland bureaucratic adjustment of the workings of municipal government.
But the Monterey Park City Council’s decision this week to grant itself power to override some Personnel Board actions unleashed an angry, racially polarized debate that reminded observers of City Hall battles in years gone by.
Most who spoke seemed less concerned about the technicalities of the new law than about what triggered it. The council voted 3 to 2 to give itself override powers in the aftermath of the Personnel Board’s rejection of a plan to give hiring preference to bilingual applicants for 911 dispatcher jobs.
Before the council vote to pass the override law, it heard Chinese community leaders accusing some council members of ignoring their needs; Anglo and Latino residents charging others on the council with catering to special ethnic interests, and both sides hurling personal insults.
The three-hour public debate, which drew an overflow crowd of about 250 people to the City Council chambers, called to mind earlier stormy episodes that have marked the city’s shift over the last decade from a primarily Anglo community to one in which Asians form the majority. In the 1980s, political turmoil grew out of controversies over Chinese characters on signs and a push to make English the city’s official language.
The vote gave tentative approval to the override powers, but the council has yet to take any action on the hiring program itself.
The program, a highly unusual method of recruiting bilingual employees, aims to have dispatchers fluent in Spanish and Chinese on each shift. To accomplish that goal, the city would divide job applicants into three categories--Chinese-speaking, Spanish-speaking and English-only.
Whenever there is an opening, the city would hire a new dispatcher from one of the categories, depending on the language skill needed. Also, bilingual dispatchers would receive a $150-a-month salary bonus under the plan.
Many speakers complained that the override plan is an unfair measure that was hatched due to pressure from Chinese-speaking residents.
“People come over here and they want to rearrange our country,” longtime resident Frank Cuda said. “We thought we were going to be melted in a melting pot. However, it looks like we’re a tossed salad.”