In the clubby world of Glendale's gadflies, Harry Zavos gets admiration from the network of regulars who come to most City Council meetings, questioning the ethics of some members as they pepper them with criticism over just about everything they do, from fixing potholes and setting utility rates to employee salaries and economic development policies.
Even some council members give the 79-year-old retired lawyer and Loyola Law School professor grudging respect as an adversary focused on issues, forcing a halt to the unconstitutional transfer of “surplus” water revenue to the General Fund and now challenging a similar transfer of $21 million in “surplus” electricity revenues.
The drumbeat of attacks from Zavos and gadflies Herbert Molano and Mike Mohill recently prompted Councilmen Ara Najarian and Dave Weaver to fight back, denouncing Mohill for trying to link them in a conspiracy while adding a shot at Zavos over his repeated demands for City Attorney Mike Garcia's opinion on the transfers to be made public.
“You don't need to come down here every week and tell us the same thing,” Weaver said. “We have the city attorney working on [the legal opinion]. It's not going to be a confidential report to us.”
Zavos is unfazed by such criticism and embraces the gadfly label, quickly pointing out that the first great gadfly in history was the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who when faced with a death sentence for “corrupting the youth” of Athens with his incessant attacks on its rulers, likened himself to a gadfly.
“The state is a great and noble stead who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly … all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you.”
“When I've come before this council, I've come as a serious and concerned citizen,” Zavos responded at the next meeting. “I've endeavored to focus on issues and to stay away from personalities. I've tried to be careful in my assertions and rational in my arguments.”
At a time when so few bother to take the trouble to vote and even fewer pay much attention between elections, when so much of what preoccupies our minds is the antics of celebrities, gadflies have all too often become the voice of the people, stand-ins for the public at government meetings — for better or worse.
Worse, if you look at how the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council have gotten so fed up with the same handful of gadflies coming to their lightly attended meetings that they have tightened the rules in ways that sharply limit public comment.
Glendale officials have not gone that far, but three weeks ago, Weaver — exasperated by the drumbeat of criticism — said Mohill went too far by suggesting that the grand jury transcripts of the investigation of former Councilman John Drayman, who was indicted for embezzlement, indicated there was wrongdoing by other city officials.
“As far as Mr. Mohill dragging me into it as part of a conspiracy, take your evidence to the district attorney,” Weaver scolded. “I've said that so many times I'm wasting my breath. Conspiracy, conspiracy — in your mind.”
A week later, Najarian — who two years ago blew his top over the appointment of Molano to a city quality of life committee — chose to respond when Mohill repeated his innuendoes.
“We got to clear the air of the stench of his scurrilous accusations against this council,” Najarian said.
“We just can't let it lay out there stinking up the room.... Let's talk pensions. Let's talk transfer. But when you make a knowingly false statement that we are implicated, that we are co-conspirators … that just goes too far … so park it, Mr. Mohill.”
RON KAYE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share your thoughts and stories with him.