Scandalous, Beautiful Downtown Burbank

Over at the Wilcox place, the Christmas decorations are already up. Faux candy canes flank the walkway. Toy soldiers stand at attention and Santa Claus offers a stiff wave from the porch.

It was a quarter till noon Wednesday and the local paper, the Burbank Leader, was still resting outside. I picked it up and was mildly surprised to find Denise Wilcox, the woman I was about to meet, quoted on Page 1 in a box above the fold, under this banner headline: "Sex for football funds alleged".

Denise Wilcox, a 40-year-old educator and mother of three, is one of those cheerful, outgoing people who laugh easily, though lately it's been a nervous laugh. When she won election to the Burbank school board, she didn't expect a mess like this.

It was just before Thanksgiving, she says, that she received a terse phone call from a friend with the strange news that Salle Dumm had been arrested. "It's going to be big," the caller said before hanging up.

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Nope, nothing like this had ever happened in Burbank before. This is the city that became famous for being dull. Denise Wilcox was just a kid when "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," taped at NBC studios here, first mocked "beautiful downtown Burbank." Johnny Carson kept it up, and Burbankers were so pleased, they named a park in his honor.

Has anything like this happened anywhere? Well, Hemet's in the ballpark. Remember the prep football coach there who fixed up players with his wife?

But before we get carried away, let's remember that Salle Dumm, the 50-year-old president of the Burbank Educational Foundation, a nonprofit group that raises money for the city's schools, has pleaded not guilty, denying charges that she had unlawful sex with a minor. Even though Burbank police taped a phone call that raises questions, Dumm disputes the story of a 17-year-old Burbank High football player who told police that on July 16, Dumm seduced him, promising to provide money to help the Bulldogs' football program--and promised more if he returned the next night.

But even if this sordid tale isn't true, even if, say, Dumm is the victim of a cruel conspiracy, it's still scandalous. And that's why the Burbank school board tonight is expected to appoint a committee to investigate alleged improprieties related to the Burbank High football program.

The charges against Dumm are a police matter, but school officials have other questions. The four-month delay between the alleged sexual encounter and the police investigation raise questions of what school officials knew, and when. Already there were the football recruiting allegations that have dogged school board President Joseph Hooven and former Burbank coach John Hazelton.

According to the California Interscholastic Federation, an agency that polices prep sports, Hooven may have exercised "undue influence" to encourage athletes to transfer to Burbank and play on Hazelton's team. (Not that it helped. The Bulldogs' lone victory came by forfeit.) Now comes the sex allegations. Thickening the plot are the tangled relationships of Dumm, Hooven, Hazelton and a private tutor named Maureen Burke.

Burke, who lacks a teaching credential and is not a school employee, had followed Hazelton to Burbank High after working with his players at his former school, Montclair Prep. According to the CIF report, her tutoring service was offered as an inducement to recruits. The CIF investigation describes friction between her and some members of the Burbank High faculty.

Burke told the Leader that Hooven encouraged her to open a deposit account for her tutoring service with the Burbank Educational Foundation "because one of his best friends, Salle Dumm, would soon be president." Burke, sources say, accompanied one particular pupil to Dumm's home on July 16 and departed before one thing led to another.

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Like many people in Burbank politics, Denise Wilcox is a native. After her election, she took a two-year leave from her job at Monroe High in the L.A. school district. "I grew up a block from here," she says in her living room. "My husband grew up two blocks away."

The Burbank she grew up in seemed frozen in the '50s.

"The concerns were very much 'Leave It to Beaver' kinds of things. We all had stay-at-home moms and the PTA was the big organization in town. . . . There was one movie theater, and that was it. Our parents were very excited about the fact that there was nothing for teenagers to do in Burbank. . . . Now it's changed a whole lot."

One thing that hasn't changed, perhaps, is that everybody still knows everybody else's business. And now Jay Leno can bring Burbank back to "The Tonight Show" monologue. Odd, but I find myself wishing, for Burbank's sake and everyone else's, that the boy in question wasn't 17, but 18, and therefore a consenting adult. What a difference a birthday makes.

Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Please include a phone number. Address TimesLink or Prodigy e-mail to YQTU59A ( via the Internet: YQTU59A@prodigy.com).

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