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Voters Fire Entire City Council to Protest Utilities Tax Hike

July 15, 1993

COVINA, Calif. (AP) _ Voters angered by a utility tax increase did more than just fight City Hall - they fired the mayor and the entire City Council.

By a 2-1 margin Tuesday, residents of this Los Angeles suburb voted in a recall election to oust Mayor Henry Morgan and council members Richard Gratton, John King, Chris Lancaster and Frieda Richardson.

A fall special election was scheduled to replace them.

″We told the politicians in this city, and in this state, and in this country, that they had better live within their budget and not pile on any more taxes,″ said William Mason, chairman of Covina Citizens for Good Government, a pro-recall group.

What irked people in this city of 43,000 was that the council passed a 6 percent tax on electricity, gas, phone and water bills while not eliminating the council’s expense account to save money, Mason said.

Council members said the tax instituted last November and averaging $12.60 a month for each household was needed to close a $2.3 million budget deficit blamed on the recession and cutbacks in state funding.

The move reminiscent of the Proposition 13 property tax revolt of the 1970s was expected to send a message to officeholders elsewhere too.

″I suspect a lot of city council members throughout the state will be very frightened by what occurred in Covina,″ said Sheri Erlewine, a spokeswoman for the California League of Cities. ″We are seeing recall being considered more and more in communities.″

″It’s ugly out there - every city is facing what Covina is facing,″ Erlewine said. ″There just isn’t enough money anymore to pay for what the people want.″

Like other California cities, Covina has lost services to shrinking revenues, seeing library hours cut back, 33 workers laid off, street repairs limits and youth programs curtailed.

Ousted council member King said recall proponents failed to understand the depth of the city’s fiscal problems and the painful choices they posed.

″I think there’s a move, not only in Covina, but in California, to just toss out government,″ King said. ″But nobody has offered up any solutions to the financial problems.″

In the past six years, utility taxes have led to the ouster of one or more council members in at least three other California communities: Baldwin Park, Pacifica and Morgan Hill.

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