By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
People may think Lula Davis Holmes is an underdog, but she doesn’t think so.
“I was an underdog five years ago when I ran against the Mayor Pro Tem (Julie Ruiz Raber), and I hadn’t ran a race at all. No weapons formed against me shall prosper,” she said, her rendition of Isaiah 54:17 of the Bible. “We came out victorious. I don’t consider myself an underdog,” she said.
Holmes makes it clear from the beginning that this election isn’t as much about becoming mayor as it is about changing the prevailing order in Carson’s City Hall.
“I’m against a dictatorial mayor that’s been sitting on the council for 12 years,” Holmes said. “It’s time for a change. We’re up against the machine, but so was Barack Obama when he ran four years ago.”
Holmes believes that the reason for Mayor Jim Dear’s victories in the recall election and following election in 2008 and 2009 was because he was against a field of weak candidates with checkered pasts.
“When you have the business community looking at what the odds are, apples to apples, that’s what will happen,” she said.
She insist that things are different now. Indeed, her source of optimism is understandable. In 2011, in addition to running strongly in the northern precincts of the seat, garnering first place finishes in the vote count, she also finished a strong second place in the west-central parts of Carson.
With Councilman Mike Gipson’s support (Gipson ran strongly in the north, central and southern parts of Carson), Holmes is a strong contender for the mayorship, particularly considering that Dear thoroughly trounced his strongest competitor, former mayor and councilman Gil Smith, during the 2008 recall.
“We don’t have that now,” Holmes said referring to the weak candidates that ran against Dear back then. “I haven’t done anything that some of the people he was up against have in the recall. I have a clean slate—a different dynamic.”
Not surprisingly, Holmes is very much in support of Measure M. She believes the founding fathers of the City foresaw the issues that would arise if the mayor was directly elected in a general law city. When asked if the city council of 1991 was successful in depoliticizing the election of the mayor when they first passed the measure that allowed for the direct election of the mayorship, Lula replied that it did for the first two election cycles.
“In order to be an effective mayor, you have to have two other people that agree with you but preferably you have four.”
Holmes has a thorough understanding of how the city operates after 27 years of working in the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“I’ve been here through the good, the bad, and the ugly,” she said. “I was working for the city and I saw the city during that transition [in the early 1990s] that at the time I thought was a good idea. Never did we know we were going to have a carpetbagger dropping here and just start saying, “this is my city.” It’s not your city. This city belongs to the residents, the tax payers.”
Clipping the Mayor’s Wings
In 2012, the council majority did what they could to clip the mayors wings by passing a ban on the appointing of ex-officios and blocking scores of commission appointments. They even attempted to take Dear’s gavel away.
“It’s not necessary,” Holmes said. “He’s just banging it and banging it. We just want our meetings to run expeditiously without going into 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. We want to limit the conversation so that we can get home without being repetitious saying the same thing over and over,” she said.
Ex-officios to committees and commissions don’t have any voting power, but are allowed to participate in the deliberations of the board. In June 2012, the Holmes’ council majority voted to limit the appointing of ex-officios to the City Manager, who by state law is the only one allowed to participate on any board, but without voice vote.
Holmes believes the purpose of adding ex-officios to commissions were, “for stacking the commissions.”
“They come and sit and hopefully if one resigns. But they haven’t even been able to that. I don’t see a purpose [for ex-officio] because you don’t need a title to serve. Holmes pointed to Carson’s 45th Anniversary Celebration Committee as an example.
“We have 45-50 people that are applying now to volunteer with the 45th Anniversary Celebration. They don’t have a title. They come and do it because they want to be a part of the process.”
Holmes calls the commission appointment process, “terrible,” as it is now. She noted that some boards, such as the Planning Commission are able to make decisions that aren’t automatically reviewed by the City Council
“The Planning Commission is a quasi-judiciary committee,” Holmes said. “Prime example: when we were talking about the 7 -11 that was going to go onto Del Amo, he [Dear] had enough commissioners to get that passed. It went to the Planning Commission and they approved it,” Holmes said.
“That’s in my neighborhood. You think you’re going to approve a 7 -11 and think I’m going to sleep?”
Holmes said she had to petition it to bring it before the Council to vote on it.
“When you have the Planning Commission and the Economic Development Commission and all the city commissions, you control the city’s vote. Because your loyalty is to the person that supported you,” Holmes said.
Holmes noted there are people on commissions that aren’t even Carson residents. She argues that if each of the five council members have an uncontested appointee, there would be some sort of balance.
“But if everything is as the way he sees it and [the way] his people [see it], then what about the other 95,000 residents that live here?” she questioned.
Utility Users Tax Committee
When Measure C passed in 2009, a 15-member board was appointed to oversee the collection of the tax and how it was spent. However, more than three years after passing of the measure, there is still disagreement over exactly what that commission’s duties are.
Both Holmes and Gipson argue that mission creep occurred in the early days of its formation where initially the board was only supposed to oversee the tax being collected rather than the entire city budget. There’s also recollection the original size of the board was supposed to be 11, not the 15 that it started off as, nor the 24 members including the three ex-officios it came to be.
The oversight committees were to receive tax reports from the Tax Administrators and oversee the funds collected, how the funds are collected, and how the funds collected are spent. But since the funds collected by the Utility Users tax goes directly into the general fund, the committee’s purview became more than just the Utility User’s Tax, thereby becoming a source of irritation to both Holmes and Gipson.
Holmes said she was not surprised by the degree oversight the Utility Tax Users Commission wound up exercising.
“That’s what he (Dear) wants, but he doesn’t have the votes right now. The Utility Tax Users Commission panel was set up to oversee the money that was coming in. They had no business going in our budget. That is not their job,” she said.
“One of the results was that the Utility Users Tax Commission was given veto power over whether a teen center should be built or not,” Lula argued.
“Anybody could look at the budget and come up with a recommendation. In my mind they were just supposed to look at the revenue that came in to the City and where we were getting our monies from, and that we were getting what we’re supposed to be getting. That was their only task. The UUT, in my mind, didn’t have anything to do with our budget.”
Holmes was incredulous when it was suggest that the committee’s purpose was to ensure that the money was well spent.
“Well, have they done that?” “No,” she said, answering her own question. “The commission is so large that they sometimes can’t even have a meeting.”
In the beginning, the commission had 24 members and three ex officios. Then it was reduced to 21 members as a result of trouble of reaching a quorum for meetings. In Oct. 2012, the Commission was reduced to 11 members along with the consolidation and reduction of other commissions. Holmes noted that the Utility Users Commission began with only 11 members before more members were added by Dear.
Holmes believed the Mayor’s intention was in expanding the commission of that size, she suggested it built a degree of loyalty to him and his agenda.
“I’ve said over and over again. If you want to volunteer your time, you do not need a title. If you just come to see what’s going on and just show up.”
An unimaginable can of worms was opened when longtime City Clerk Helen Kawagoe suffered a stroke towards the end of 2011, leaving a mess for 2012 that the city is still dealing with in 2013. First, there was the business of appropriately honoring such an important and popular figure. Second was the business of finding a new city clerk.
At the Dec. 20, 2012 council meeting, it was proposed to rename the council chambers after Kawagoe. At the point, there was agreement that something should be named for Kawagoe, but the council ultimately continued the item until the next meeting to see if something “bigger” could be named for Kawagoe.
In January, Mayor Dear proposed renaming the council chambers immediately, allegedly fulfilling Kawagoe’s long time wish. Kawagoe advocates submitted petitions with hundreds of names demanding the chambers be renamed immediately. The council majority opted to rename the chambers immediately upon Kawagoe’s passing, waiving the customary 60 day delay for such namings. Advocates, newly organized and energized, left the meeting angry and determined, ultimately forming a political action committee so that they could raise money and defeat the members of the council majority that didn’t abide by their wishes.
“First of all, we should never have politicized Helen Kawagoe,” Holmes said. “Helen never wanted that. And I talked with her daughter about that. I think that was wrong.”
Holmes expressed doubt that renaming the council chamber’s was Kawagoe’s dream at all, at least not to the point of it becoming an issue in a political campaign.
“I don’t think this was Helen’s dream at all. She was used to get somebody else’s wishes,” Holmes said. “If you noticed, the people that came out to speak, they were not Carson residents. They were from Gardena and from everywhere else.”
Holmes argues there was a Stand Management Procedure regarding the naming of parks, and that in order for it be named for someone, that person would have to have been deceased for five years. But some parks weren’t considered public facilities.
Holmes offered that Helen was against a street being named for Jim Dear.
“She was city clerk when that issue came up, and she was opposed to it. I just think they used her to politicize something because it was an election year.” Holmes explained. “And anytime there’s an election they have to find something that can get attention. I just think it was blown out of proportion.”
The Standard Manual Procedure that the city used for more than 20 years was suspended in 2011, to ostensibly bring it into the 21st century. One of the things it was supposed to have was a standard procedure on naming public buildings. There was no such procedure in place after the SMP was suspended in 2011 and still not in place when the renaming of Leandro Rd for Jim Dear wound up on the agenda. And it was still not in place a month later when the agenda item proposing the immediate renaming of the council chambers for Kawagoe came up.
When asked why an SMP for naming public buildings has not been brought up, Holmes said that the council will eventually deal with it.
“The subject is still too warm,” she said. “That was a sneaky way of… ‘oh we need to look at our SMP and bring it into the 21st century.’ Then the next week, we get a newly public works commissioner to name the street after Jim Dear.”
Holmes was referencing an agenda item that came up for a vote before the chamber renaming issue came up.
“The street runs all the way through the project (Boulevards at South Bay) and you would have had to exit onto Jim Dear Boulevard. That was deceptive to say the least.
And we’re thinking, oh this is a great idea,” Holmes said of the decision to review the Standard Management Procedures. “Then the next week, we get this. Very deceptive.”