By Ted AYALA
Candidates running for office in the upcoming municipal elections April 2 were allowed to speak to the public Tuesday night at a forum hosted and moderated by the Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber of Commerce.
The forum, which was a three-tiered affair that began with candidates running for the school board, then the position of city clerk, and finally the three council seats up for grabs, was a generally well-behaved affair that didn’t see many surprises or candidates straying from their prepared talking points.
Perhaps the most notable moment of the evening was when Stephanie Landregan, who is running against Ardy Kassakhian for city clerk, accused the incumbent of “irregularities” concerning his oversight of electoral procedures.
“This is my second time running [for city clerk],” said Landregan in her closing remarks, “and I ran because I was extremely concerned that votes were not being counted, that [ballots] were not being stamped after they came into the clerk’s office, that [ballots] were left in tubs after the election. These are elements that concern me.”
As Landregan recited her accusations, Kassakhian shook his head in disagreement, though he was unable to counter as he had already given his closing statements.
Though Landregan has not yet responded to inquiries from CV Weekly, she was not seen tallying up votes in the 2011 election, which had been open to the public and press and no irregularities were noted at the time.
Opening the forum were the candidates for the GUSD school board where matters pertaining to the district’s budget and a persistent problem with bullying were at the forefront.
Drawing on his own experiences as a student and father, incumbent Greg Krikorian gave his appraisal of the bullying problem.
“It’s happening, it’s the reality,” he said. “The pressure on our kids to succeed is unbelievable.
[Bullying] is a serious issue. But sometimes [the problem] is the parents. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror. Yes, we need to train our teachers to identify bullying. But we need to give [kids] our support.”
Armina Gharapetian, who is one of the challengers, said that students should be reminded that every day is “no bullying day.”
Retired teacher and fellow challenger Daniel Cabrera, meanwhile, impressed upon his audience that his combined experience as a teacher as well as a volunteer for various organizations would make him a worthwhile candidate.
The stage at the Sparr Heights Senior Center later filled with 10 Glendale City Council candidates vying for the three open seats. Some, like Edith Fuentes, never uttered anything beyond amiable but vague platforms, while others, like Jefferson Black, seemed poorly prepared.
Candidates Zareh Sinanyan, who has recently come under fire for alleged racist and homophobic remarks, and Chahe Keuroghelian were absent.
Real substance was heard from the two incumbents – Ara Najarian and Laura Friedman – and challengers Sam L. Engel Jr., Roland Kedikian, Mike Mohill and Herbert Molano.
The latter were also questioned by the moderators about their connection to the Vanguardians, which has incurred criticism in some corners for unfounded rumors aimed against the city’s government.
“[It’s about] disseminating information [the public] doesn’t have,” answered Molano. “I use whatever means is necessary to keep [citizens] informed. I’m not ashamed of it.”
Incumbents were pressed about accusations that the city was soft on “pension spiking” – a controversial process when public sector workers artificially inflate the ultimate payout of their retirement funds in the years before they leave employment, usually by amassing unused vacation pay.
Acknowledging that the city council has done “a number of things” to mitigate the problem, Engel added that he that “he was against pension spiking” and was “embarrassed” by a number of his former colleagues in the public sector.
“One of the reasons I’m running is to restore respectability to a [sector] I had once proudly joined,” he said.
“City Council took up [the issue] immediately last year and we eliminated pension spiking,” retaliated Councilmember Ara Najarian. “It is not possible for one city employee to cash in their unused pay to spike their base pension based on that. We have the toughest pension plan in the state. Other cities are trying to catch up [to us].”
Councilmember Laura Friedman acknowledged that the system was still “not perfect” but that great strides had been made.
Molano noted that the reforms that kicked in only affected future hires and not current hires, while Mike Mohill added that he felt that still not enough was being done in that regard.
“It’s the pension and the salaries [for union workers],” he said. “That’s where all the money is, our number one problem in the City of Glendale.”