Sheriff’s Station Has Begun Inquiry into WeHo Council Deputy Scandal

An allegation that a West Hollywood City Council deputy monitored the conversations of a colleague and sent details of them by email under a fictitious name now is the subject of an inquiry by the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station.

Capt. Gary Honings confirmed to WEHOville that the inquiry is under way but declined to offer more details. It was widely known that the incident was under investigation within City Hall, but the fact that a Sheriff’s detective has gotten involved suggests it is being viewed as a very serious matter.

West Hollywood City Council Deputy Ian Owens, left, with Councilmember John Duran (Facebook)
West Hollywood City Council Deputy Ian Owens, right, with Councilmember John Duran (Facebook)

Earlier this month Ian Owens, deputy to Councilmember John Duran, was escorted from his office and put on administrative leave while the city investigated allegations that he monitored office conversations of Fran Solomon, deputy to Councilmember John Heilman. Owens had prepared a document using city software containing allegations that Solomon was making telephone calls on behalf of Heilman’s re-election campaign. The document includes quotes purportedly from Solomon’s telephone conversations, which led her to wonder if her office was being bugged. That document was emailed to numerous email accounts, including that of WEHOville, by someone using the name Matthew Mills.

Late last month Solomon filed a formal request with City Manager Paul Arevalo for an investigation into the possibility that her office conversations and telephone calls may have been monitored or recorded.

The incident made public a system long viewed by City Hall insiders as dysfunctional. While the deputies in theory report to City Manager Arevalo, in practice some of them only take direction from the City Council members who choose them (and to whom Arevalo reports). As a result deputies sometimes don’t coordinate their actions with city staff members and sometimes take their own positions on city issues, such as the public opposition last year by three deputies to Heilman’s proposal to bar campaign managers from lobbying the Council.

Jeffrey Prang, a City Council member for 18 years, said the problem is that “the West Hollywood deputies essentially operate without supervision. Their primary supervisors are the Council members, who work full time elsewhere, which means that it is incumbent upon deputies to conduct themselves in a professional manner. But if they don’t, there really are no checks and balances.”

jeffrey prang
LA County Assessor (and former WeHo Council member) Jeffrey Prang

“In past years they all worked well together,” said Prang, who left the Council in December when he assumed the post of Los Angeles County Assessor. “The deputies in some past years were the ones who salved the wounds between Council members … From what I read, now it sounds like at this point deputies may actually be the instrument that contributes to the differences between Council members. That’s not an ideal situation.”

“They are highly paid professionals, and they should be contributing to the good operation of Council offices rather than the dysfunction,” he said. “The things that have been revealed publicly indicate some real serious symptoms. It’s unfair to the staff in City Hall and to the residents of West Hollywood. They shouldn’t have to pay for this dysfunction.”

The deputies are exceptionally well paid. Compensation, including health and retirement benefits, ranges from $133,000 to $178,000 a year for those now holding the positions. The deputy system is relatively unusual in Los Angeles County. For example, in Beverly Hills, a city similar in size to West Hollywood, a single administrative assistant whose pay range is $40,000 to $60,000 serves all four Council members and the mayor and reports directly to the city manager.

“There’s only three other cities in LA County (Compton, Inglewood and Pasadena), all of which have populations well over 100,000 people, that have Council deputies, ” Prang said. He noted that West Hollywood Council deputies make two or more times what the deputies in those cities make.

Prang also said the fact that the deputies have their own five-person union is very unusual, if not unprecedented. “I cannot think of another situation anywhere in the nation where deputies or assistants to elected officials have their own union,” he said. “They are at-will employees.”

Prang had some praise for the deputy system. “They relieve the city staff from some of the responsibility of dealing with residents’ issues,” he said of the deputies. “I think deputies give Council members the ability to have additional reach by studying initiatives in other cities and working on policy.” Prang also noted that  two full-time paid interns assist all five Council members in those matters.

Prang said the City Council should authorize the city manager to manage and discipline the deputies when it comes to workplace issues like arriving on time and not violating city policies. “For the most part the City Council member should be responsible for directing content,” he said. “What issues you are working on, what projects you are working on.”

Prang said another idea that had been discussed during his years in office was to eliminate the direct appointment of deputies by individual Council members and instead create a pool of employees, all of whom would work for the Council. “Maybe a couple of legislative analysts to work on legislative matters, administrative support folks to work on scheduling, maybe someone who’s there to respond to constituent issues,” he said. But Prang said that Council members have been reluctant to actually grant Arevalo the authority to manage their deputies, despite that being described as the situation in the deputy job description.

Prang said Arevalo “has a situation unique among city managers in LA County to have five people who are essentially shadow City Council members operating in his shop, people over whom he has no control.”


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Rudolf Martin
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Rudolf Martin

Mudsling much lately, Rob Bergstein?

Rob Bergstein
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Rob Bergstein

No one was less surprised than me when I first read of the roiling West Hollywood City Council Deputy scandal. I’ve had a front row seat for this type of spectacle since the 2011 City Council Election, when D’Amico last went toe-to-toe with John Heilman. Then candidate John D’Amico ran a race worthy of a Tea Party Candidate. His mudslinging in 2011 succeeded only in splattering on his closest ally on Council, John Duran. The issue back then were some trumped up charges that John Heilman’s deputy (Fran Solomon) had committed “credit card abuse”, racking up elaborate charges on the… Read more »

James Francis
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James Francis

Patronage in this city is one thing. With campaigns and promises to friends and individuals, some will benefit, even with 2 new council members joining the club, some will get jobs through patronage. However, with these inflated salaries like that of lawyers, doctors and even an executive or manager of a company it is hard to digest for even a resident like myself to fathom tax payer dollars going to someone to live the good life here in West Hollywood with almost a quarter to a half a quarter of a million dollars! I used to work in Washington DC… Read more »

Brad
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Brad

@ Christopher. I agree. In any event, given the limited hours that most deputies put in, there probably isn’t much difference between “working” and paid administrative leave.

Christopher
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Christopher

So now Ian Owens has been placed on paid administrative leave. Wow, that’s harsh punishment, a real deterrent to white collar crime.

A few thoughts
Guest
A few thoughts

What qualifications did Ian Owens have for Councilman Duran to choose him as his Deputy? His own Linked-in page shows no previous experience in public service, advocacy, non-profit, community work.. nothing of the kind. He was working for some skin care company in Las Vegas in 2012 when Duran hired him – and before that, the Sands hotel. There’s no indication of any previous association, not even residency, with West Hollywood, let alone any part of the Greater Los Angeles area. What was it that put him at the top of the heap for such a high paying, seemingly important… Read more »

Brad
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Brad

I agree with Rudolf. The other deputy has admitted that the allegations may be true.

As Rudolf said: All potentially illegal activities should be investigated, no matter who may have committed them.

Very Concerned Citizen
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Very Concerned Citizen

@James”Jim” Chud I agree…especially with your quote, ‘that which is watched, improves. That which is not is fraught with perile.’ Should it not have been our city manager’s job to watch over the deputies? Should it not have been his responsibility to immediately discipline both Mr. Owens and Ms. Solomon, before it was left up to the community to weigh in? Yes, perhaps most of the deputies are over paid but your comments rings very true. They are the ones doing most of the work, some much more than others. Most of them are the liaison between the council members… Read more »

James 'Jim' Chud
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James 'Jim' Chud

Being a full-time city council member is not a full-time paid position in our city. I guess that somewhere back in history, there may not have been enough happening in our city to keep someone busy. That has changed. The reality is that the deputies, for the most part, are the first contact one has with the councilmembers’ offices, and are depended upon to take care of a lot of the minutia for their respective bosses. We have a choice here. If you look at the size and cost of the support staff of various types whose jobs it is… Read more »

Rudolf Martin
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Rudolf Martin

Yes, we obviously need to reform the system! But I’m curious why the sheriffs are investigating only one of two deputies that might have broken the law. Call me crazy but I think that all potentially illegal activities should be investigated, no matter who may have committed them. The other deputy has already admitted in her statement that the allegations against her might be true: “If the allegations prove to be true, they were incidental, inadvertent and regrettable”. They were also illegal. So: Dear City of WeHo, I may not have moved my car for street cleaning the last few… Read more »

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)
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@Todd I like your opening line.

And its reasonable to assume that when the city gets big enough, part time council must go

might also that the city manager beefs up the deputies to justify his own exuberant salary

Randy
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Randy

Since they probably won’t agree to working only with a pool of deputies, it would make most sense for the sitting council members to agree to let the city manager supervise these employees.