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Archived: Bell Gardens Council Assignments Get Heated

A heated argument broke out Monday at the Bell Gardens City Council when the annual reorganization of the council and committee assignments upset one council member so much he threatened to use social media to broadcast council actions he claims are “irresponsible” and “unfair.”

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Fricción Durante la Reorganización del Concejo de Bell Gardens [1]

The meeting started smoothly enough, with the council unanimously voting to make Councilman Daniel Crespo mayor for the first time during his 12 years on the council, and Councilwoman Priscilla Flores the new mayor pro tem.

“I wasn’t ready for this tonight,” said a surprised Crespo.

Daniel Crespo (left) was elected Bell Gardens mayor and Priscilla Flores (right) elected mayor pro tem Monday during the annual reorganization of the council. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez) [2]

Daniel Crespo (left) was elected Bell Gardens mayor and Priscilla Flores (right) elected mayor pro tem Monday during the annual reorganization of the council. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Flores, who like Crespo is up for election in November, said her nomination of Crespo was “deserving.”

Doing a complete about-face, Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez, who has been known to engage in shouting matches with Crespo during council meetings where each has accused the other of making decisions for “political gain,” said she now has “confidence” in Crespo’s leadership.

“Mr. Crespo and I have a long history but I think that our common interest is the betterment of our community,” Rodriguez said.

But the cordial atmosphere soon turned sour as the council turned to the business of reorganizing council member assignments to the various external boards, commissions and committees where council members represent the city.

Former Mayor Pedro Aceituno said he put the item on the agenda to make sure the appropriate adjustments were made, a task that usually takes place after the annual council reorganization.

Particularly contentious was Rodriguez’s nomination of Crespo to replace Councilman Sergio Infanzon as the city’s representative to the Gateway Cities Council of Government (COG), which includes representation from the twenty-seven cities of southeast Los Angeles County —such as Vernon, Montebello, Commerce, Bell, South Gate and Bell Gardens — the County of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. Gateway Cities advocates on issues regarding air quality, housing needs, job creation and economic revitalization for the region.

It is a politically influential group that can impact legislation, policy and large amounts of government funding that flows to the area.

Infanzon told the council that his four years at Gateway Cities has put him and the city in a leadership position that would be lost if he is replaced.

“I just want to make sure that we understand the responsibilities and what it entails to be part of this and what it has taken to get a leadership role in this committee,” Infanzon said. “I believe it’s in the best interest in the city to keep it [the assignment]the same.”

Infanzon is also up for reelection this year and emphasized that he has only missed one committee meeting in four years, insinuating that other council members do not take their roles in their respective committees as seriously.

Currently Gateway Cities’ Board of Directors 1st vice president, Infanzon said he is on track to be elected president at the board’s next meeting in August. It would be the first time someone from Bell Gardens is president, he emphasized.

“I would like to continue representing the city in this organization because of the critical leadership that we have been able to create and develop,” he urged.

According to Gateway Cities’ Deputy Executive Director, Jack Joseph, traditionally the first vice president rotates to become president. Joseph told EGP this year would be an “exception” and the board would have to vote for someone else in order to address the change in representation. He added that while a new representative starts off as a delegate, there is no need to wait a certain number of years before being elected president as long as the other board members approve.

Rodriguez told Infanzon he should trust the new mayor to take over his duties on the committee. Nothing is preventing you “from being as involved as you have been.” Rodriguez added.

“Mr. Crespo has great expertise and he’s been on the council I believe longer than anyone of us and I think he will do a great job at representing us.”

The council is heading in right direction despite the challenges it faces, she said, raising her voice.

Infanzon said the issue is not about whether he can provide support to Crespo but about the four years it took for him to be on the verge of being elected president. Using his hands to illustrate his point, he said the city’s new delegate would have to start at the very bottom and Bell Gardens would lose its chance to finally have a representative in top leadership.

Infanzon said he “truly believes” the council members do not understand “how government works,” and that it would be irresponsible for council members to make a decision that night.

His comment riled Crespo who noted he was the Bell Gardens’ representative to Gateway Cities in the early 2000s.

“I’m perfectly aware of its functions and responsibilities,” he retorted. “I do look forward to having you briefing me on where we are at in this specific committee,” he added indignantly.

The mayor then called for a vote on Rodriguez ‘s nomination, but before it could be taken, Infanzon said the council voting that night would demonstrate a “lack of responsibility” to the people.

“I’m glad that the public is here, I’m glad that we have representation here, I’m glad that its being recorded because I don’t think that it’s fair,” he said, clearly upset. “Now just for political purposes or for whatever reason we are changing it.”

His passionate plea escalated when he told the council that every single resident in the city was going to know what happened at the meeting and they would “fight this.”

“We are going to use every single piece of media; Facebook, Twitter, press releases everything to let them know the decision that we make here,” he said angrily.

He accused the council of not understanding what needs to be done to “take the level of integrity and honesty of this body to a different level.”

Rodriguez shot back that if he wants to talk about politics and lack of responsibility, he should remember that all of the members of the council beside him are lifetime residents of Bell Gardens, insinuating that it’s him who does not understand the troubled times previous councils experienced.

“We have always been a very responsible council,” she said loudly. “I resent the fact that you would use social media as a threat to try to subordinate this council and convince us to do what you want us to do,” she said angrily. “I take that as a threat, I think that sometimes as a councilmember you have to let go of your ego, ” she said as the city council chambers grew uncomfortably quiet and some in the audience got up and left.

Despite the city attorney’s attempt to move the meeting along, Infanzon continued to press on and attempted to clarify he was calling the decision irresponsible, not the council, but Rodriguez was not having any of it, and told him he should be careful how he says certain things.

Crespo said the debate needed to stop so they could move on to other committees and called for the vote.

Stating that he was at first leaning toward voting for Infanzon, Councilmember Aceituno said Infanzon’s “unfortunate” comments led him to change his vote to Crespo.

“I took offense to some of the comments and the tone in which they were made,” Aceituno said.

When it came for Infanzon to vote he told the council it was “okay” and they could do whatever they please.

“All of you know that I work hard,” he said in a defeated voice. “Yes I know I wasn’t born in this community but my community is the people not the place.

“None of you should be offended,” he said in his final plea to the council. “I should be the one [who is]offended,” he said before abstaining.

Crespo was elected.

Infanzon turned down Rodriguez’s nomination of him to serve as the city’s alternate to Gateway Cities. “Thank you…but its okay,” he said emotionally when she pleaded with him to accept the nomination.

His rejection of her nomination sparked another round of arguments between the two, with

Rodriguez ultimately nominating Aceituno to be the city’s alternate.

Attempting to try to strike a conciliatory note, Infanzon told Crespo after the vote that he would support him.

“Tomorrow, after this meeting, you will be someone representing this city, I will be someone representing this city, because of that I will respect you and if you need something I will provide it to you, and I will support you with whatever it is that is needed to protect the interest of this city.”