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Know Your Candidates

South Pasadena: Familiar faces fill roster of candidates for city's mayor

Fielding questions at a public forum, the South Pasadena candidates lay out their differences and similarities.

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN, Times Staff Writer
Published February 29, 2004

SOUTH PASADENA - The mayor's wife, a former vice mayor and a former candidate for City Commission are seeking the city's highest office.

The mayor's seat is up for grabs this year and Alma Held, Dick Holmes and Alex Haak each want the job. The election is March 9.

Held, 74, is married to Mayor Fred Held. Holmes, 72, served on the commission for five years. Haak, 72, lost his bid for a commission seat last year.

The city is run by five commissioners, each of whom is assigned a department to oversee. The mayor is one of the five commissioners and is responsible for the administrative services of the city as well as presiding over commission meetings.

Last Wednesday, Held, Holmes and Haak each tried to convince about 75 residents gathered in the community room at City Hall that they were the best choice for mayor. The one-hour candidates forum was sponsored by South Pasadena Voters Watch.

Residents who missed the forum will have another opportunity to hear the candidates' views at a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 7047 Sunset Drive S.

At last week's forum, Dan Calabria, one of the mayor's most outspoken critics, served as moderator. He told the audience of mostly seniors to write their questions on index cards. A couple of Voters Watch members then read each of the questions in private to make sure there were no personal attacks on the candidates.

Using a Wal-Mart karaoke unit for a sound system and sharing a microphone, each candidate gave their opening statement.

Haak said he would remove the city's large tile mural from the large traffic island in the middle of Pasadena Avenue, across from Palms of Pasadena Hospital. He also said he would donate half of his salary as mayor, a sum of $3,750, to his church and charities. He also criticized the way Fred Held, who has been mayor since 1994, has governed the city.

"My husband is not running for the election, I am, so keep him out of it," Alma Held told Haak.

She then cited accomplishments made while her husband was in office: creating new parks, getting reclaimed water and keeping a low property tax rate.

Held said she wanted to bring "open dialogue" to the city. If a resident has an issue, she said, she wants to know about it. And if the issue is affecting residents citywide, she said she would ask the commission to form a committee to evaluate the problem.

Holmes said if he was elected he would not change much in city government. He praised his high attendance record at commission meetings when he was in office from 1997 to 2002. He said the only reason he resigned before his second term ended was because his wife died and he needed a change of scenery.

"I pledge to you I will serve the three-year term unless the Lord calls me home," he told the audience.

Calabria then began reading the questions.

How would you preserve the city's $3-million reserves?

Haak said he would not use the money for burying utility wires unless residents approved a referendum. Held said she was confident new development in South Pasadena would build up revenue for the city. Holmes called himself a "fiscal conservative."

What about the city attorney's high salary?

(City Attorney Linda Hallas is a full-time city employee and makes $111,312 a year.)

Held defended Hallas' salary, saying the commission has access to her legal expertise at any time. If South Pasadena had a city manager form of government, the city would have to pay salaries for a manager and his staff, she said. Holmes said the city attorney's salary should be frozen. It is.

And Haak said the city should hire an attorney on a part-time basis. He said even neighboring Gulfport, a larger city, does not employ a full-time attorney.

"Amen. Amen," said a man standing at the back of the room.

What immediate changes would you make, if elected?

Holmes said he wouldn't make any changes right away. He said he has a vision for the city but didn't mention what it was. He also said he would keep taxes low and services high.

Haak said his first priorities would be to get rid of the city's legal department, improve recreational facilities and protect residents from consumer fraud. He also said he would work at promoting business within the city. "What bothers me is losing Kmart," he said.

What would you do about the city's guidelines for speech at meetings?

(Residents have three minutes to speak on agenda items before the commission discusses them. Residents also get another three minutes to speak at the end of the meeting, but they cannot discuss agenda items.)

Haak said he would allow residents to talk as long as they needed. "No clock," he said.

Held said she would continue to use the time limits: "I think you do need control of a meeting."

Holmes said a meeting needs rules of conduct. "You can't have open debate," he said, adding that commissioners could be flexible at times.

All three candidates closed the forum asking residents to vote for them. And Held drew one more burst of laughter from the audience by telling them the only reason she would be unable to fulfill the three-year term is if she got pregnant.

[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]

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