HUNTINGTON BEACH : Robitaille Again Lashes Out at Critics

City Councilman Earle Robitaille, a retired chief of police, called one resident a "village idiot" and another resident a "fool" after the residents mentioned him as an example of the city's recent practice of pension "spiking."

Robitaille's outburst prompted Mayor Grace Winchell to recess the City Council meeting for five minutes Monday night for a cooling-off period.

Robitaille is among 16 retired city workers the state has said received unusually high, or spiked, pensions. But while state officials have criticized the city for allowing spiked pensions, they have acknowledged no law was broken.

Pension spiking involves giving credit for items such as unused vacation days when computing an employee's retirement salary.

Robitaille has frequently said the city did nothing wrong or illegal in computing pensions. Last year, when the spiking issue first erupted, Robitaille verbally lashed out at some critics. At the Jan. 20, 1992, council meeting, Robitaille called one critic "a pompous nincompoop."

The retired police chief again launched into name-calling at Monday night's council meeting. Robitaille blasted George Arnold, a resident and frequent gadfly at council meetings, after Arnold criticized Robitaille during the public comments section of Monday's council meeting.

Robitaille said to Arnold: "I thought your Popeye impression on 'The Gong Show' was pretty good, but your impression of the village idiot far surpasses that 'Gong Show' performance."

City Administrator Michael T. Uberuaga at this point attempted to halt further name-calling during the meeting. "I think personal attacks are unnecessary," Uberuaga said.

But about half an hour later, during a public hearing on the city's Holly-Seacliff development plan, Robitaille again verbally attacked a resident who criticized him.

The resident, Phyllis Carruthers, a former advisory board member for the city, had briefly referred to Robitaille's "inflated retirement income" as she listed her concerns about the city's strained budget.

Robitaille clearly showed anger at the woman's comment. He told her: "If that was a statement of fact on your part, you are a liar. If it was an echo of some political rhetoric in the last (city) election, you are a fool."

Carruthers then lashed back. "I don't have to stand here and be called a fool," she told the council. "I don't have to stand here and be publicly insulted."

Robitaille responded to her: "I don't have to stand here and be called a crook by some idiot like you."

At this point, Winchell, as presiding officer at the meeting, called a recess, and the entire council left the room.

The pension-spiking controversy resurfaced as a political issue earlier this month. State Public Employees' Retirement System officials said cities which previously spiked retirement policies will this year be required to pay back the cost. According to Deputy City Administrator Robert Franz, Huntington Beach will owe the state retirement system about $465,000.

Critics of pension spiking have said the city can ill afford such extra cost.

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