Chamber Drama: Part III

So, the West Covina Chamber of Commerce had a five-hour closed door board meeting yesterday. I stopped by at noon on Thursday to see if I could go inside in meeting or at least get an agenda, and had no luck with either.

The board members did not tell Exectuive Director Gary Lawson and Marketing Director Monica Cabrera what happened in the meeting. Instead, Lawson and Cabrera received a letter via fed-ex this morning. The letter informed them of their reinstatement, and also that they would both be suspended without pay pending further legal advice. (Read here if you are lost.)

Still no word as to the reason for their firing, reinstatement or suspension, though Lawson is convinced it has everything to do with a restraining order he, Cabrera and part-time employee William Medina filed against board member Luis Chacon.

Since Lawson and Cabrera are the only two full-time employees of the six-person staff, it kind of makes you wonder who is going to be picking up the slack. Also, part-time employee Medina said he is considering quitting over the whole ordeal.

Board members refuse to return calls. While the board is a private agency, it does receive some public funding. This year, it got $75,000 from the city of West Covina, Lawson said.

This is just me talking, but once a private agency receives public money — your money — it seems that those agencies should strive for some sort of transparency and accountability to the public — even if that means returning a phone call or distributing an agenda. I’m not the only one that sees it that way, either. 



Montebello mayor wants questions screened

Montebello Mayor Rosie Vasquez has requested that when I interview her my questions go through a screening process. She said if I can not adhere to her “procedure” I can not interview her.

“My opinion does not matter,” Vasquez said Thursday afternoon. “I am sure you can get a story without talking to me.”

Below is a letter I received detailing her procedure:

February 19, 2009

Amanda Baumfeld
Whittier Daily News
7612 Greenleaf Avenue
Whittier, CA 90602

Re: Procedure for requests for comments

Dear Ms. Baumfeld:

Recently, there has been a series of miscommunications and incorrect reports by you and your newspaper relative to stories about the City of Montebello and attempts to obtain comment from me as the Mayor. I was extremely displeased with the report in a recent article that I was unable to provide you with an immediate response to questions you had on a certain issue due to my need to care for my grandchildren. As a former television journalist, I found that comment to be unprofessional and un-newsworthy.

In order to avoid future misunderstandings and in order that I may provide you comment on key City issues covered by you and the Whittier Daily News, I make this simple request. I would ask that any questions you may have concerning matters covered by you in which you seek a quote or comment from my office be placed in writing and forwarded to my secretary, Lillian Guzman, at her email address of:

This will allow for a clear dialogue and will also prevent any misunderstandings from my comments as Mayor. It is my hope that this simple procedure will be honored. I look forward to our future cooperative efforts.

Very truly yours,

Rosemarie Vasquez
Mayor, City of Montebello

Gonzales on the Vulcan issue

Got this e-mail from Azusa Councilman Robert Gonzales this morning in response to a letter that ran in the newspaper the other day. The letter attacked both Gonzales and Councilman Keith Hanks for not stating their position on the new Vulcan Mining Proposal (per request of the city attorney).

Here is the letter:

In response to the letter issued on February 25th regarding Vulcan: Azusa’s future is extremely important to me. Under advice of our city attorney, I cannot state a position on Vulcan until all pertinent information & community input is brought before council. Candidates running for office can freely state their personal opinion, but as a city official it’s my duty to practice due diligence on any issue that comes before the city council. Our community’s health and safety are my highest priority. It is on this foundation, doing what is best for the residents, that I will base my vote and actions on matters that come before the city council. Thank You.. Azusa Councilman, Robert Gonzales

I would imagine that same sentiment doubles for Hanks, as well.

A sign of the times?

A story I wrote came out in the paper today about the Elwood Family Apartments in Glendora that offer some affordable housing as part of their complex.

Often when I write about businesses or things like that, I could some phone calls from people thinking I represent the business. Nothing unusual. I just take the phone calls and point them in the right direction.

But I have had a large response to this story, with more than the usual phone calls asking me about the complex and calling with interest.

It seems there are a lot of people out there who are interested in affordable or low-income housing. Could it be a sign of the tough times out there? Likely.

Unfortunately, the complex is already at more than 50 percent capacity and was already reviewing numerous applications for apartments. Now, with the story they may be fielding more interest than they can accommodate.

So, if Glendora or any other city is thinking about getting a low-income housing project going, know this: The demand is there.

Today’s shorts: Emergency rides, top seats and porn

West Covina passes “insurance” for ambulance rides.

Solis named labor leader. Let the games begin for those, like Board of Equalization Chairwoman Judy Chu and Sen. Gil Cedillo, who want Solis’ former Congressional seat.

OctoMom offered $1 million to appear in a porn video.

The infamous tagged up bridge in Pico Rivera that goes over the 605 freeway was cleaned of its graffiti. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Rosemead election heats up

We’re just a couple of weeks away from the March elections. Here is the latest out of Rosemead. Six are vying for three seats.

The candidates are incumbents Margaret Clark, John Nunez and John Tran, and challengers Sandra Armenta, Henry Lo and Steven Ly. Among the top issues are amending the recently-approved General Plan, reducing crime and graffiti, and spending city reserves to improve services.

No more police escorts

The bad economy affects each of us in different ways. For me, I save money by going for the cheaper brand of pasta sauce and no longer buying bottled water. For the city of Irwindale, the bad economy means no more police escorts during funerals, according to its agenda.

Apparently, as a way to help make up for some of the $2.7 million deficit, Irwindale residents are going to be asked to make do without some things. Aside from the funeral escorts, which are provided for private, non-official use at a cost of anywhere between $600 to $1,000 an event, the city will also suspend the practice of waiving rental fees.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the Irwindale City Council will be asked to adopt the ammended budget, form an ad-hoc budget advisory committee to oversee the 2009-10 fiscal year.

On the closed session agenda is the city manager.

West Covina Chamber: Part II

I’m sure there’s more to this Chamber story than I’ve been able to find out today. Part of the frustration is that none of the board members I called wanted to comment or returned my calls seeking comment.

The crux of the story is that the only two full-time staff members for the West Covina Chamber of Commerce were fired last week. The firing came just eight days after those same two employees, along with a part-time employee, filed a temporary restraining order against board Member Luis Chacon.

Chacon did not return calls seeking comment.

Chacon’s name has appeared in the news before. Here is an article that ran in 2006 when his estranged wife was named as Chamber President:

West Covina resident prevails after tough life Chacon named president of Chamber of Commerce
San Gabriel Valley Tribune ( West Covina , CA) – Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Author/Byline: Christina L. Esparza Staff Writer
Section: Local
WEST COVINA – At 36-years-old, Carolina Chacon is a successful Realtor, community activist and one of the most respected women in town.

Her determination and head for business helped her become the West Covina Chamber of Commerce’s board president, and her heart led her to sit on the board of the East Valley Community Health Center.

“I know myself,” she said. “When I do something, I do it 100 percent.”

While Chacon has a charmed life with an adoring husband, five successful children and a thriving business, life started rough.

Chacon grew up in Compton, where almost every day she got beat up by other girls. At 15, she gave birth to her first child, and for a time was homeless.

Her determination was evidenced when only two hours after giving birth, she hopped on a bus to school to take a final exam.

The wisdom her father, Leopoldo Ruiz, instilled in her never left, she said. He always urged her to pursue an education, and to always treat others with dignity and respect.

It wasn’t unusual for her to find complete strangers who were hungry and homeless eating at the dinner table, she said.

“His philosophy was so simple,” Chacon said. “If you stay busy always finding a way to help other people, you don’t have to worry about yourself.”

Chacon joined the military, where she met Luis Chacon , her husband. He was a commanding officer and she was a private in the U.S. Army.

“I admired her strong personality,” Luis Chacon said. “She’s a combination of very unique attributes I haven’t seen in anyone else … she’s an awesome individual and I wish many communities, if not all, had someone like her.”

When she got her real estate license, Chacon networked in West Covina and found herself becoming more involved in the city she called home.

She and Luis Chacon sat on various boards and commissions, and attended several community events.

As president of the chamber, Carolina Chacon hopes to build a stronger relationship between the city and the chamber, as well as a bond between the chamber and the city’s residents.

To facilitate that, several community events will be hosted by the chamber, including the Tuesday night Farmers’ Market, and the “Taste of West Covina ” event scheduled for October.

Carolina Chacon also makes time for her children, one of whom is a certified Cordon Bleu chef who uses her talents to prepare meals for the homeless.

She wants to tell any teen mother not to see her child as a hinderance, but a reason to persevere.

“That child can keep you on track,” she said.