The 4-month-old city of Laguna Woods suffered its first political casualty Wednesday when Mayor James F. Thorpe abruptly quit after being accused of wasting too much time gabbing.
The behind-the-scenes war over the microphone at the Laguna Woods City Council meeting came to a head when Thorpe shocked the audience of 20 by standing up, announcing his resignation and then marching out.
"Apparently, one of our fellow council members doesn't like the amount of time I speak," said Thorpe, his voice trembling. "Maybe we should time how long other council members speak and see who's taking up all the time."
The source of the controversy was a letter written by Councilwoman Ann M. Snider and sent last week to Thorpe and their fellow council members. Snider defended the letter Wednesday, saying it was written courteously and consisted of constructive suggestions on how to speed up the pace of the meetings, which sometimes last more than three hours.
Thorpe, who could not be reached for comment after the meeting, was elected Laguna Woods' first mayor when residents of the sprawling senior citizens community known as Leisure World Laguna Hills and others voted in March to incorporate.
While Thorpe relinquished his mayoral duties, he will remain a council member.
Snider was unrepentant Wednesday.
"I would have talked to him personally, but he was off fishing last week," she said. "If I knew it would have been such a big deal, I would have bought an ad and had it published. He's like a little kid."
Councilman Victor Kay said he received the letter and threw it away.
"I read it, understood it, but never imagined it would have had such an impact," he said.
Thorpe resigned at the end of a three-hour session when he rose to his feet, holding a folded copy of the letter in his right hand. He told the audience he was insulted by its contents. Thorpe looked down at Mayor Pro Tem Bert Hack seated beside him and said, "Bert's in charge now," and then abruptly adjourned the meeting.
Hack sat frozen at the table, chin in hand.
"I'm absolutely surprised," he said after it was over, shaking his head. "I had no idea."
Before being ushered out of the room by City Manager Leslie Keane, Thorpe glared at Snider, cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted: "I hope you're happy, Ann!" She shrugged and ruffled her papers.