WeHo City Council Will Consider Reforming Its Deputy System

The West Hollywood City Council may act to reform its support system, which has come under fire recently for the behavior and compensation of the Council deputies.

On the Council agenda Monday will be a proposal initiated by City Manager Paul Arevalo, Mayor John D’Amico and Councilmember John Heilman to come up with other concepts for supporting the part-time Council members. Any new system would be implemented after the June 2 special election to fill the seat vacated by Jeffrey Prang in December.

West Hollywood City Council deputies Michelle Rex (left, 2014 compensation $189,583) and Ian Owens (right, 2014 compensation $149,610)
West Hollywood City Council deputies Michelle Rex (left, 2014 compensation $189,583) and Ian Owens (right, 2014 compensation $149,610)

Meanwhile the proposal calls for a freeze on hiring new deputies and having the current deputies report directly to Arevalo or someone designated by him. They would be part of a pool of city employees available to assist the five Council members in scheduling meetings, researching legislative initiatives and responding to questions and concerns from local residents.

The current system has been criticized for the high pay of the deputies, who earn as much as $190,000 a year in salary and health and retirement benefits. The system also has been criticized because the deputies, while theoretically reporting to the city manager, in effect are hired by the Council members and report to them. Several of the deputies are notorious for not getting along with one another. For example, Michelle Rex, deputy to D’Amico and his former campaign manager, and Fran Solomon, deputy to Heilman, do not speak to one another. That fraught relationship reflects a similar one between D’Amico and Heilman, who went for some time without shaking one another’s hands after D’Amico was elected to the Council in 2011.

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

The problems with the system were highlighted recently by an allegation by Solomon that Ian Owens, a friend of Rex’s and the deputy to Councilmember John Duran, was spying on her office conversations. Owens prepared and emailed a document purporting to list calls Solomon was making from her office soliciting campaign help for Heilman, who is up for re-election. Such calls are not permitted by city employees from city offices on city time.

Owens currently is on paid leave while the Sheriff’s Department investigates the possibility of criminal behavior by him. In response, Owens has engaged a lawyer who portrays him as a “whistleblower.” He said Owens decided to expose Solomon’s behavior because Duran refused to. Owens said Duran refused to act because Owens refused to have sex with him. Duran has confirmed that he met Owens on Grindr, the gay hookup app, and had sex with him before hiring him.

Research on possible new support systems for Council members will be conducted by city employees under the guidance of a Council subcommittee working with the city manager. Whether the Council will actually approve any changes depends on who wins next Tuesday’s election to fill three Council seats and the June 2 special election to fill one seat. At a candidates’ forum at Plummer Park Community Center tonight, candidates offered various opinions about fixing the system. Candidate Larry Block said he supports creating a pool of city employees to provide services to Council members rather than allowing each Council member his or her own dedicated staffer. However Lauren Meister, another candidate, said she thinks each Council member should have a dedicated deputy who does not report to other city officials.

Only three other cities in Los Angeles County, all with populations more than twice that of West Hollywood, have a deputy system serving at-large Council members. Deputies in West Hollywood are paid more than twice those in the other cities.

Currently the deputy staff includes Owens, Rex, Solomon and Kirin Hashmi, who reports to Councilmember Abbe Land. Land is not running in next Tuesday’s election and her seat is up for grabs.


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CEO
Guest
CEO

As a homeowner (and property taxpayer) in West Hollywood, it is pathetic to see that the vetting process for deputies making these three figure salaries (that I help pay for) is not under greater scrutiny. Their previous experience being with skin care and working for a Las Vegas hotel? Really? Shouldn’t these deputies have degrees and experience in Urban Planning, Political Science, Social Work or Public Policy/Ethics? Council members should be ashamed for their choices. The drama they are now embroiled with is well-deserved.

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)
Guest

@luca d: I agree. The DA should be looking at this.

Shawn Thompson
Guest

Glad to see reform being worked on. The residents clearly have stated they are not happy with the present system, And I agree with the other comment above that Fran Solomon has admitted, I believe in fact she was breaking the rules and using city hall resources and or on the job time fund raising for her boss. Which is what Owens alleged and it appears she admitted it once caught, with the record of her call one one day at city hall? What are the consequences of her actions? As far as Owens seems like an investigation is in… Read more »

Brian Holt
Guest
Brian Holt

PS: while I find the app sex hook-up a bit squeamish and yucky, I’m just a prude that way. But let’s back-off the finger wagging at Duran over that irrelevant detail… One word for my straight friends with their moral noses in the air: Tindr an idea so unoriginal they couldn’t even find a name that didn’t sound like Grindr. Straight folks (both men and sadly, women) between the ages of 18-50 are just as happy to wham bam it as gay folk. Time to get real on that one.

Ben McCormick
Guest
Ben McCormick

One possible solution to the Councilmember/Deputy hiring-and-whom-reports-to-whom mess at City Hall might be to have candidates for the Deputy positions interviewed and hired by the City Manager and/or his staff, and assigned to each Councilmember as needed. In the real world, people don’t often get to choose whom one works for but that’s OK as people are hired to do a job, not be best friends or sex partners with their bosses. I do believe that still allowing Councilmembers to have a one-on-one working relationship with a single Deputy is the most effective way to get this job done. At… Read more »

Brian Holt
Guest
Brian Holt

No way Jose: This plan of the fox watching the henhouse ain’t passing the smell test for me or you either I trust. It’s clear the entire mess needs objective and outside eyes and ears. And whadda about this salary package cray!? I won’t support a candidate who believes the status quo is good to go. I was not satisfied by some answers given last night and as such my support is in flux. No way in Hell I support paying ANY employee at lil ole West Hollywood City Hall as much or more than the fraking governor, congress person,… Read more »

luca d
Guest
luca d

why isn’t the district attorney’s office looking into these matters?
by what authority does the sheriff’s department hold, that they could possibly do a thorough investigation of the misuse of a council office?

KG
Guest

It is suspect that the press is trying to drag Ms Rex into the Owens-Solomon affair. It creates an impression of bias. Also, there is no mention of Ms Solomon’s verbal admission of doing exactly what Mr Owens is accusing her of doing- campaign work on the public’s dime (which is very serious and illegal at the local and federal level). The deputy system needs to be reigned in. However, the Owens-Solomon affair is between Mr Owens and Ms Solomon. So far, Mr Owens has publicly accused Ms Solomon of doing campaign work on the public’s dime. And, so far,… Read more »

Oliver Francis
Guest
Oliver Francis

oh this is rich! the two councilmembers with aides suspected of acting up the most are going to work together to fix it? they should have fixed it already! the only electeds with any credibilyt to work with council staff professionally are gone. prang and lande. maybe they volunteer to be a subcommittee to look at this? anything else is letting foxes referee fighting hens.