The West Hollywood City Council approved an interim measure on Monday to regulate its deputy system until a larger overhaul can be considered after the June 2 special election.
“I want us to set the stage for us not to make decisions from a position of chaos,” said Mayor John D’Amico, alluding to recent public scrutiny regarding deputy behavior.
Each city council member works part time, and therefore employs a fulltime deputy to represent his or her office. Councilman John Duran’s deputy, Ian Owens, has been on paid leave since his alleged misconduct during the city council campaign season.
Owens is accused of eavesdropping on former Mayor Pro Tempore John Heilman’s deputy, Fran Solomon. Owens alleges Solomon, who was working on Heilman’s reelection campaign for the March 3 election, was working for the campaign on city time.
Owens said he took action only after being ignored by Duran, whom Owens said was upset with him because Owens had spurned his boss’ sexual advances. As the story became public, Duran acknowledged that he had sex with Owens once, but before hiring him, and he denied any claims of sexual harassment.
The city is conducting its own internal investigation on the matter, which is not yet completed. On April 2, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department delivered its case regarding any criminal wrongdoing to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which has not determined if any charges will be filed.
The approved interim system indentifies three primary duties for council deputies: to serve his or her respective council member; provide support to all council members at various public meetings upon assignment; and to work with the city manager on strategic initiatives.
Mayor-elect Lindsey Horvath added a memo regarding hiring practices for deputies, which includes the need for internal and external searches, interviews with city staff and community stakeholders, along with background checks.
“I think by establishing a process it takes any questions away and allows people to concentrate on the quality of their work,” Horvath said.
City manager Paul Arevalo was frank in his assessment of the deputy system.
“Clearly, there is a need to have a more in-depth conversation of the city’s organizational structure,” he said. “Moving forward, there needs to be greater harmony. The credibility of the city needs to be reinforced and we need to really demonstrate a greater level of professionalism.”
Arevalo added that once the city council is fully seated — the special election will replace the seat vacated by current Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang — it will take months to design, and then months to implement any new system.
“The model is the challenge and that is what we are going to have to discuss,” he said, noting the deputy system has been in place for 30 years. “The lines of authority and reporting do not work.”
Duran said he was hesitant about drastic changes to the system.
“There has been a lot of controversy over the last three or four months but I have to tell you, not withstanding that period of time, I’ve noticed over the years that each council member decides how he or she wants to utilize a deputy, and people have had different ideas over the years about what a deputy is,” Duran said. “I don’t want to take that away. I think it is important that any elected official can decide how he or she wants their right hand person to be.”
Duran said he wasn’t interested in signing a time sheet, and that it would be insulting to the deputies, who often work long and varied hours.
“The problem has been for the last couple of years that politics have completely infected the third floor,” Duran said, acknowledging his own faults regarding the issue. “It’s up to these five individuals to get along or not get along. At some point, the campaigns have to stop and the governing has to take over.”
Duran said it was important that the deputies could provide at least some oversight of the city manager and city attorney, but admitted that there are problems with how deputies have interacted with the city manager’s office.
“That is the one place where there is a missing link,” Duran said. “The city manager must have full authority to execute discipline on a deputy if necessary, probably after consulting with the council member.”
The city manager’s office, during the interim period, will keep an activity log on the council deputies and report back to the council. City staff members, including deputies and the city manager, were also tasked with developing a West Hollywood Strategic Plan 2040 to better help define roles and goals for the future.
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