Opinion: On ‘Deputygate,’ the WeHo City Council Kicks the Can Down the Road

City-of-West-Follywood SliderAs a number of prescient cynics had predicted, West Hollywood City Council members tonight avoided dealing with “Deputygate,” the scandal involving their highly paid deputies that has involved allegations of sexual and other ethical improprieties.

Council members spend countless hours pontificating about gay rights in Russia and Uganda and international women’s and other human rights issues from their raised dais in the City Council Chambers in the hope that they will brand West Hollywood (and themselves) around the world as champions for human rights.

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)

But those same Council members seriously damage the city’s reputation (“West Follywood” anyone?) by refusing to deal with their own ethical issues and those of their direct reports — issues that have a greater impact on those of us who live here than does the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s policy regarding “gender inclusive” college dorms.

It was Mayor John D’Amico and Council members John Heilman and Abbe Land who voted tonight to postpone consideration of a proposal to authorize a study of ways to reform the deputy system. The irony is that the postponement was requested by Councilmember John Duran, the council member at the center of the controversy. Duran’s deputy, Ian Owens, is under investigation for allegedly spying on another Council deputy, and Duran has admitted he hired Owens after having sex with him. Duran asked for the postponement because he is out of town, attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. — something as relevant to life in West Hollywood as UNC-Chapel Hill’s dorm policies.

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

Another irony tonight is that Mayor D’Amico blamed the deputy problem in part on City Manager Paul Arevalo. “Our city manager, he has not delivered fair enough leadership on the third floor and neither have we,” D’Amico said. However Councilmember Land wisely pointed out the illogic in D’Amico’s comment about a system where Council members have hired their campaign managers (D’Amico and Michelle Rex) and those they have had sex with (Duran and Ian Owens). “At the end of the day we are asking the city manager to manage employees that we manage as well,” Land said. “If the city manager has a problem with the deputy, it’s hard to address that.”

D’Amico tonight did acknowledge the seriousness of the deputy issue. “Everyone understands the seriousness of the problem,” he said. “There is no stitching it closed and hoping it heals. This is a wound that has to be looked at carefully.”

But kicking the reform study down the road, as the Council did tonight, makes it unlikely that any significant change will be made in an expensive and dysfunctional system that exists in no other city in Los Angeles County as small as West Hollywood. For one thing, Councilmember Duran opposes eliminating the fulltime deputy system and is said to be interviewing candidates to replace Owens, who isn’t likely to return no matter what the police investigation turns up. Lauren Meister, a candidate who political insiders predict will win in tomorrow’s Council election, also wants Council members to have fulltime deputies. D’Amico told the Council tonight that he had reached out to Meister and challengers Joe Guardarrama, Lindsey Horvath and Larry Block, suggesting that they supported delaying the item.

After the election for three Council seats is over tomorrow, the winners will be under less pressure to clean up this mess. They will be able to continue kicking the can down the road, which sadly is the Council’s typical approach to ethical issues in West Hollywood.

  1. Did you notice the outrageous salaries? For council deputies? For a city of only about 35,000 people? Comes out of your taxes, one way or the other, City Hall is for insiders. West Hollywood residents are outsiders. Suckers. But you already knew that.

  2. I fear that “…postpone consideration of a proposal to authorize a study…” just about sums it up.
    Note to City Hall: There’s a reason why the public comments at last Monday’s Council meeting were what they were…and why the result the next day was what it was, despite (perhaps IN REACTION) to nasty campaign tactic and attempts at voteranipulation by self-dealing outside money.

  3. I have repeatedly been harassed by the WeHo Sheriff’s Department. At one point it was so serious (being called a “F#ggot” repeatedly, I called the City Hall department for problems with the Sheriff’s Department.

    I got a voicemail back saying in a very belligerent tone (clearly aware of who I was and what has been the ongoing treatment of me by the Weho Sheriff’s Department) ….

    “SO! I hear YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT …… (long pause) .. Why don’t you just come on in and we can discuss what can happen if I file a formal complaint”

    totally serious and true .. self “policing” of the Sheriff’s Department with a city hall department with a “toughguy” sheriff’s man there to “deal with any complainers” … no to deal with the actual complaints.

  4. I for one want the ‘old’ council to do NOTHING in the way of policy. We elected one (or two, depending on absentee balloting) new councilmembers this evening, let’s let the new folks participate in making policy for our city’s future. I expect they’ll come up with a better solution than that which their predecessors created.

  5. “The irony is that the postponement was requested by Councilmember John Duran, the council member at the center of the controversy.”

    Actually, Duran has been accused of sexual harassment, and admitted to having sex with his deputy, neither of which is part of the “deputy controversy.” The actual controversy is about the management, behavior of deputies (accusations of spying and whatnot) and who deputies should report to. To my knowledge, nobody has accused Duran of directing Owens to collect data on Fran Solomon, nor has Duran admitted to being any part of it.

    I think the council did the right thing. Based on tonight’s preliminary election results, we might have a council with two new people on it. Those people should have a say in how the system gets changed, not two outgoing council members. We can all wait a little bit on this, although I do wish they had made a motion to at least require that the deputies report to the city manager, while they figure out what to do long-term. Instead of continuing to let chaos reign.

  6. @ Dapper Dan: Our Mayor is proud of the fact that he has had weekly meetings over coffee with JA for the last 10 years. That’s 520 meetings and what benefits does the city see from all that brain crunching? Oh to be a fly on the wall on the wall or not. Agreed, the pasture gate is open. But wait, JA is connected to another manipulator ensconced in this swamp.

  7. BTW – the deadline to file for the June election is this Friday, meaning that some of those who don’t win tonight might just keep on running.

  8. Oh, what about those people on a “commission” (i.e. – Planning Commission)? According to a source they are on there at the “will” of the City Councilmember who appointed them. As we did, I think, in the last election have term limits for Councilmembers, we should do the same for those on any “commission.” Some of them have been there TOOOO long ! One of whom, I think is very pompous, self-absorbed and dismissive of any disapproval of a new building (as in JA).

  9. Fear not… This rot will not stand. In time it will crash and burn. Unfortunately, for a few sitting members and candidates they will lose out on support and votes that otherwise would have been theirs. As for the double standard, pontificating BS they spatter about – whadda joke. This will not go away. Trust me. Brian

  10. It’s a no brainer that they’d delay this until after this election. Why anyone would have a problem with this is beyond me.

    And D’Amico indeed is the nexus of cynicism, closely followed by his new BFF Lauren Meister who betrayed her supporters and showed how desperate she is for victory by tying herself to him. It’s going to get ugly, and with it likely both will be in the council, possibly dangerous for this up to now very stable city. D’Amico clearly wants to run thi city, likely get his own choice for City Manager as his pawn.

    He did publicly commit to only serve two terms. We’ll see.

  11. I am happy I voted for no incumbent. And, additionally, what business does he have going to DC when all of this is happening?! What a cheap move.

  12. what happened last night was a despicable display of huberis and partly a massive cover up. the council’s total disregard for transparency and ethics was revealed once again. remember this is the same lot that refused to reform itself 18 months ago with lobbying reforms. on the other hand is the mayor covering up the misdeeds of owens and rex? is he afriad of what may happen to him if the deputies are disbanded? just look at the retribution brought on duran from owens. if council approved the reforms proposed last night, owens and rex might have unleashed more of duran’s dirty little secrets. one can only imagine what skeletons rex is hiding for mayor d’amico as long as he remains loyal to her. if the investigation reveals that owens and rex continued to work as an inseparable team to record solomon’s phonecalls, d’amico would be implicated too. as long as rex and owens can keep their six figure salaries the mayor is safe from scandal and retribution. just look what happened to duran.

  13. Please tell me that the city did not pay for John Duran to go to that conference, representing our city. I simply don’t trust him to represent us in any way.

  14. If one were to explore this labyrinth, it is very possible that the nexus may reside with Mayor D’Amico and the unfortunate choice of volatile supporters that signed on to a hateful agenda against John Heilman et al through an expertly manipulated cast of characters attached and/or available to Ms. Rex, his busier than busy 24/7 deputy.

    Prior to the last election, two well known individuals went on a fishing expedition through public documents seeking information that might damage John Heilman by way of discrediting his deputy, Fran Soloman with since unproven accusations of city credit card misuse. Other tactics of their despicable behavior spilled over to Abbe Land but mostly to Lindsey Horvath.

    Following the election, the next maneuver was amplification of an overly fabricated tift between Fran Soloman and Ms. Rex extending to their respective council members. The substance of this supposed spat was brought forth by John D’Amico in a cringe worthy, handwringing episode during a council meeting. Few folks seem to remember any such type of behavior in the past at city hall or in the council chamber.

    Mayor D’Amico, a generally likable although often befuddled guy, recently appears to be phoning in his campaign, taking credit for anything and everything through “Me, Myself and I” rhetoric and seeking cover through the good names of others he has chosen to embrace or re-embrace. Oh what fun it is to be the Mayor.

    Hopefully the voters will select candidates that focus on values and issues in a constructive manner and ones that have little time for personality driven agendas. Add to that, no time for the baggage of old hate campaigns and perpetual campaigners. If the public wants this nonsense to stop, please encourage the offenders to be turned out to pasture and not establish residence at city hall. If not, we are likely to wind up with the angry, vengeful types within city hall playing their dirty tricks on the public. One doesn’t turn into a golden retriever overnight after a lifetime of being a junkyard dog even while being walked by a smiling duplicitous master.

  15. I too, am truly regretful I supported D’Amico in 2011. Won’t make that mistake again. The bonus is Rex is gone.

  16. Four more years of D’Amico’s and his deputy Michelle Rex. The City manager must discipline her behavior. Rex has turned this city upside down. Employees at city hall deserve better than Rex. They should not be afraid to come to work because of one person. This deputy has all the power and action is needed now not, down the line.

  17. I guess we are going to have to get all of these issues on the ballot if the council can’t do their jobs—–ethics, deputies, slow/smart growth etc

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