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By Brian Hews
Once again controversy surrounded Tuesday’s Hawaiian Gardens’ council meeting as residents, and an anonymous unsigned letter read by City Clerk Sue Underwood, blasted Mayor Barry Bruce for his attempt to hire convicted felon and former Police Chief Walter McKinney for City Manager, who was backed by disgraced former City Councilwoman Kathy Nevejas.
The public comment and letter sparked a heated shouting match as Bruce and Councilwomen Mariana Rios and Myra Maravilla hurled accusations at each other.
The resident, Lydia Mateo of Hawaiian Gardens, took to the podium speaking Spanish and said, “ I am here because there is a dictator here who does not reason with anyone. I am here to tell you that the community and the City was moving forward, but that is not the case now. The residents are not going to let you get away with this. Don’t let this dictator and his puppets do what they want.”
After Mateo spoke, Underwood said, “I was handed a letter by Councilwoman Maravilla who said she got it from a gentlemen who had to leave.”
Underwood opened the envelope and read the letter, “As a resident it is my concern that today’s City Council meetings have turned into a joke soap opera highlighted by the fierce personal attacks of our clown Mayor against all his colleagues. Needless to say, because of the Mayor’s incompetency, nothing can get done. All of you were elected to serve not to dictate. Mayor, how could you appoint a convicted criminal to the City Manager position without consulting with the rest of the Council? That person is not welcome in the city. The only thing he did was bring corruption, terror, harassment, and violence to this city. You say, after degrading the council, that you have the best intentions of the city, but you don’t. I strongly suggest you step down and leave. You lack respect, education and self-esteem. The only two educated people on the Council are woman and that is who you yell at all the time. Do yourself a favor and walk away.”
Underwood then stated, “There is no signature,” which led to another vicious outburst from Bruce.
“That’s interesting there is no signature,” Bruce said, “so did (Councilwoman) Myra Maravilla write that?”
Gasps came from several residents attending the meeting.
“That is a very serious allegation,” Maravilla snapped back, “you should apologize.”
“I am not going to apologize,” said Bruce, “you should apologize to me, if there is no name, it should not be read.”
“We are a public entity, people should be allowed to speak,” said Maravila, once again asking for an apology from Bruce.
She went on, “since the last meeting I was contacted by many residents who questioned the actions of you Mayor Bruce. And for the record, for our neighboring cities and supporters, Bruce does not represent the residents of HG, our residents expect transparency, they were ignored by Bruce, and now expect justice. Bruce is not representing the people.”
Mayor pro tem Rey Rodriguez chimed in, “we are dividing the City with all the comments we are making. Mateo has been calling us puppets for years, but she is a puppet of a former councilperson.”
Bruce spoke once again, “I had support for (McKinney) it was not just me, another Councilmember agreed with me, that was Rodriguez. I was so embarrassed for McKinney hearing the allegations that were baseless.”
Bruce went on, “The ‘children’ (City residents and union members) got their way, McKinney should have got his interview, it should have been fair but it wasn’t. I have been called a dictator, but I think the crowd that night was the dictator. I am ashamed of this city.”
Amid boos and hisses, Bruce closed Council comments after that statement.
The dysfunctional meetings stemmed from actions taken by Bruce two weeks ago.
HMG-CN exclusively learned Mar. 11 that long-time Hawaiian Gardens City Manager Ernesto Marquez was forced to resign his position with sources saying that Bruce and Rodriguez were behind the removal and had plans to “basically take over the city.”
Bruce began his takeover plan in Dec. 2015, where sources said he was overheard several times at City Hall asking Marquez, “if he had found another job yet. ”
They also told HMG-CN that Bruce was heard saying, “I will hire a City manager that will do anything I ask. ”
Knowing that Marquez was resigning, Bruce wasted no time in calling a 3:30 meeting for the next day with Bruce and Rodriguez set to hire McKinney.
With that hiring, Bruce was all set to finally cancel the City’s contract with the L. A. County Sheriff’s and establish his own police department, further cementing his grip on the City.
Bruce and Rodriguez’ plan was set in motion after the election in 2015. Sources told HMG-CN that there was a “Quid Pro Quo, ” between Bruce and Rodriguez; force Marquez to resign and obtain the majority vote to hire McKinney.
But apparently there was not enough given from Bruce, as the Council voted 4-1 to not hire McKinney.
Many in Hawaiian Gardens are wondering why this took place in their city, especially the attempted hiring of McKinney.
They are also calling on the L. A. County District Attorney to investigate Brown Act violations by Bruce during the Quid Pro Quo meetings.
In 1998 McKinney was charged with perjury and filing a false police report while Chief of Police for Hawaiian Gardens.
Months later he was convicted of a felony and served 500 hours of community service, which lowered the conviction to a misdemeanor.
McKinney also was General Manager of a company called Affordable Housing Solutions Group that was sued by the city of Hercules, a town 16 miles north of Berkeley, Ca., for breach of fiduciary duty and conflict of interest.
McKinney denied involvement, but his name appeared on numerous city contracts as the general manager.
Other Council Actions
In other news, the City’s Sign Upgrade Program, where the City pays 75% of the expense toward new signage for city businesses, is going very well, with over 30 businesses participating in the program.
The Council also agreed to send out a request for proposal for the City Attorney position.
In moves contrary to Bruce’s statement that “the city is on good financial footing,” the City Council, with Bruce, Rodriguez and Trimble leading the way, cut the donation to the Hawaiian Gardens Little League Golf Tournament from $2,500 to $1,500.
The three also cut donations from $2,000 to $1,000 to local schools that were not “inside city borders,” although Trimble had to be reminded that many children in Hawaiian Gardens attend Aloha and Melbourne Elementary Schools in Lakewood.
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