Opinion: Let’s Fix the Broken City Council Deputy System Now

There’s no denying that West Hollywood has an expensive problem with the City Council deputies on the third floor of our City Hill.

West Hollywood City Council deputies Michelle Rex (left, 2014 compensation $189,583) and Ian Owens (right, 2014 compensation $149,610)
John D’Amico deputy Michelle Rex (left, 2014 compensation $189,583) and John Duran deputy Ian Owens (right, 2014 compensation $149,610)

Expensive? The total compensation last year for the four current deputies was $632,336. When a fifth Council member is elected in June, the overall cost to us will be at least $756,000. Put another way that all of us can easily understand, that’s 14,264 parking tickets.

A problem? There’s no effective way to manage five people whose real bosses (the part-time Council members) are rarely in the office and some of whom engage in their own petty fights. That’s why some deputies don’t get to work until 11 a.m., take long lunches, don’t respond to residents’ calls, engage in illegal campaign activities for their bosses, spy on one another’s telephone calls, snipe at one another and generally subvert the day-to-day workings of an otherwise very well run city government.

West Hollywood City Council deputy Fran Solomon (2014 compensation $158,995)
John Heilman deputy Fran Solomon (2014 compensation $158,995)

The solution is simple. At least it would be to anyone who has ever been in a management position (lamentably, the only Council member with that background is Abbe Land, chief executive officer of the Trevor Project). The deputy positions must be eliminated and replaced with a system that gives Council members and West Hollywood residents the services those positions were meant to provide.

That system would consist of a group of employees hired by and reporting directly to the assistant city manager. The fact that someone ran a Council member’s re-election campaign wouldn’t be a qualifier, nor would someone’s good looks.

Each of those employees would have a specific job. One likely would be charged with managing schedules and events for all five Council members. In recruiting for that position, the assistant city manager would look for someone who is hyper-organized. Several would be responsible for developing policy initiatives for Council members. The people chosen for those positions would have to have a background in that. And perhaps two would be charged with taking calls from residents and responding to them, which would require personality traits that some current deputies sorely lack.

West Hollywood City Council deputy Kiran Hashmi (2014 compensation $134,188)
Abbe Land deputy Kiran Hashmi (2014 compensation $134,188)

The salaries? They should be determined according to objective criteria, with those employees charged with

developing policy initiatives likely making more than the employee who manages schedules. But in no case should any one of them have a base salary that is more than double the median household income in West Hollywood, which was $52,000 according to the 2010 U.S. Census. That is the case for two deputies now.

So what stands in the way of making a simple change that will save the residents of West Hollywood a lot of money and provide them with better service? We think that’s a question West Hollywood residents should ask — over and over —  until we get the change that we deserve and need. (And by the way, this is a change that shouldn’t require a six-month study by a Council subcommittee — the Council’s classic way of kicking the can down the road).

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Robert Fellner
Robert Fellner
5 years ago

We also have a decent summary page that displays the median earnings for West Hollywood residents and summarizes the earnings of City employees: http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2013/west-hollywood/summary/ The City doesn’t report full-time, year-round employees from part-time or part-year employees, so we very conservatively attempt to eliminate PT employees by defining FT as having a base pay of greater than $25k. Basically, the medians displayed are actually lower than the reality, given how conservative our filter is. We are working on ways to make this more accurate and hope to have that rolled out in the 2014 update. The “total city employee compensation cost… Read more »

Robert Fellner
Robert Fellner
5 years ago

Don Jones wrote: ” The latest available (2013) shows total reported cost for the 5 deputies is $767,285. Of which 25% to the total is allocated to health care, about $37,714 avg./per deputy. This amount will not change no matter what the base salary amount. ” That’s not accurate. The total benefits reflects the combined cost of retirement contributions AND health care. For these particular employees the cost of health care was just under $8k, meaning roughly $30k is employer-paid retirement contributions. Consequently, reducing base salary would also reduce this cost as well, as retirement contributions are directly proportional to… Read more »

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)

The problem?
accountability of the council members for their deputy

in all other democratic structures in this country, deputies answer to council members
this keeps them in line

getting the city manager’s fingers in it is what is spoiling the soup and creating a grey area

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)

stephanie speaks as-if the deputies were council members! “if it weren’t for ____”

if the deputies are out of control, the solution is a full time council

shoving them further under the over paid city manager is NOT the solution for a democratic city

skywatcher888
skywatcher888
5 years ago

I wish I could agree, but I can’t. In spite of the petty squabbles currently going on in City Hall, the problem isn’t with the deputies, but the proper supervision by the city council members themselves. We have had extraordinary and exemplary service from some deputies, some still serving, it would be silly to dismantle the system simply because one city council member couldn’t properly control his deputy. Yes, the salaries are high, but they’re also asked to perform duties way above and beyond a standard 9-5 job.

Robert
Robert
5 years ago

Yes, I agree: get rid of the deputies. I’ve been in management and it’s very frustrating to try and get things done half the time because of the apathy among others. You feel sometimes like jumping up on your desk and screaming at all of them but yet if you do that you’d most likely be fired or disciplined and sent to a psychiatrist, etc.. The change comes with the voters, and as a voter in the City of West Hollywood, I can do my part and vote them out. Thanks, Hank, for your observations.

Dimitri Perparos
5 years ago

Have any of the current council members (especially Ian’s or Fran’s) made any statements about this matter?? If not, why?? Even if it is “under investigation” they can at least issue a general statement regarding what’s going on.

Brian Holt
Brian Holt
5 years ago

Hank said it best. There really is nothing more to be said until there is real change afoot. Anyone who doesn’t see or smell the rank coming from the 3rd floor is in denial. The pressure for answers and change is here and the time is now. How often do I have to remind folks we are a city with a population under 35,000. This number matters. Think about it. There is barely a smaller municipality around, and yet these people make more than the governor, your congressperson and the sitting council of LA – population 6mil. Michelle Rex may… Read more »

Don Jones
Don Jones
5 years ago

Ha! If Joe the Plummer is correct (and I don’t know how he would know such a thing since he hides behind an obviously fake name) then a big bravo to Lauren. This tells me she won’t roll over and play dead during council discussions. You go girl!

Don Jones
Don Jones
5 years ago

After I clicked through to Transparent California, I see some facts that have been left out of the discussion. The latest available (2013) shows total reported cost for the 5 deputies is $767,285. Of which 25% to the total is allocated to health care, about $37,714 avg./per deputy. This amount will not change no matter what the base salary amount. There’s another 15% allocated to “other” and from my payroll experience this most likely is comp time. Again, if comp time is spelled out in their union contract than this too will not change no matter what the base salary… Read more »

joetheplumber
joetheplumber
5 years ago

Stephanie, Sheila L. would smite you for your lack of spelling skills. I see your angle You want the deputies fired so you can apply. Well Lauren wanted a job at City Hall in exchange for a resignation from the Planning Commission. Egregious! No, I’m sorry I can’t support your plan.

Stephanie
Stephanie
5 years ago

Just one more thing… to my knowledge the salaries for deputies are NOT set by the deputies themselves. Do we really expect these people/employees, when offered a job at a certain salary to say, “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly accept that, it’s way too high.”?

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