Mayor Horvath Pushes Through Plan to Replace WeHo’s Controversial Council Deputy System

The West Hollywood City Council, in a four to one vote, tonight adopted a proposal by Mayor Lindsey Horvath to reform a system of full time Council deputies that has been plagued by dysfunction, sexual scandal and political infighting.

Horvath and Councilmembers John D’Amico, John Duran and John Heilman voted to replace the system. Councilmember Lauren Meister voted against the reform.

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)

The Council’s decision eliminates the deputy system as of tomorrow. With shifts in City Council membership because of elections, there currently are only two full-time deputies in permanent positions — Ian Owens, deputy to John Duran, and Michelle Rex, deputy to John D’Amico. Kirin Hashmi, deputy to former Councilmember Abbe Land, currently is assisting Horvath as a “limited assignment.” Councilmember Meister has named her campaign manager, Scott Schmidt, as her interim deputy.

The deputy system will be replaced by a team of five employees reporting to a supervisor who will report to the city manager. The new staff will provide specific services for all of the Council members. Those services include booking appointments and arranging events, researching and drafting legislation and meeting with local residents on the Council members’ behalf. In proposing the change Horvath said it wasn’t realistic to expect any one Council deputy to be skilled in all such areas. The change, she said, would result in better service to Council members and the community with each deputy having specific responsibilities. City Manager Paul Arevalo said tonight that until the new system is set up an interim Council support staff will report to Christof Schroeder, the assistant city manager of legal services and legislative affairs.

The change will eliminate a system that has been seen as dysfunctional by many City Hall insiders since it was established 30 years ago when the city was first incorporated. Paul Brotzman, WeHo’s first full time city manager, said the system was established then because the new city had no infrastructure. Also, because its Council was the first in the world to have a predominately gay and lesbian membership, the Council members were overwhelmed by requests from media outlets both locally and around the world. Then, as now, the Council members had other full-time jobs. Brotzman said there were issues with the system from the beginning, not least that it was difficult for the city manager, who is charged with overall supervision of city employees, to manage people who are selected by and loyal to the Council members who hire and fire the city manager.

Councilmember John Duran said he understood the need for deputies in the Council’s early years and has depended on his deputy to “keep a check on the city manager” because Duran was only at his City Council office once or twice a month. However Duran said that the city now has the staff and infrastructure to allow Council members to focus on setting broad policy, leaving to the city manager the job of executing that policy.

Councilmember Meister acknowledged recent problems among the Council deputy staff. “I agree there needs to be changes in the system,” she said. “I agree… it’s not pretty. But I also think… that you don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater.” Meister asked that reforms be postponed until more study could be done and feedback obtained from local residents about the system.

Councilmember D’Amico surprised observers by voting for Horvath’s proposal. After praising his deputy (“I want to thank Michelle Rex for being an exemplary public servant, the kind that the city is lucky to have”), D’Amico said “I support this change because it would be inconsistent to not invite change…” Turning to Meister, he said: “Lauren, this is a moment in the future history of West Hollywood that we can join even though we don’t want to.”

While the deputy system has long been seen as flawed by City Hall insiders, news of its dysfunction went viral outside City Hall earlier this year when Ian Owens, Duran’s deputy, sent out an email message under a fake name to various people and media outlets alleging that Fran Solomon, then deputy to Councilmember Heilman, was using her office phone to promote Heilman’s re-election campaign. When WEHOville identified Owens as the source of the email, Solomon complained that her conversations were being improperly monitored. The city responded by hiring a private investigator to look into the matter. In response, Owens filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that it was retaliating for his efforts to expose allegedly improper behavior by Solomon and alleging that Duran had solicited sex from him. Duran, who has admitted meeting Owens on Grindr, the gay hookup app, and having sex with him, has denied soliciting sex from him after he was hired as his deputy. City Attorney Mike Jenkins said tonight that the city’s insurance company will pay the cost of defending the city and defending Duran in the lawsuit.

The revelations about Owens and Solomon brought forth other accusations of bad blood between D’Amico’s deputy Michelle Rex, who was his former campaign manager, and Solomon. D’Amico and Heilman have had a contentious relationship that was reflected in the relationship between their deputies. Also revealed was the fact that some deputies arrived at work late and left early, interfered in the work of other city employees and weren’t responsive to the needs of local residents, a key part of the job.

West Hollywood residents became particularly upset about the compensation of the deputies. The 2014 salary and benefits of Owens totaled about $150,000 while that of Rex totaled about $190,000.

A number of residents spoke in favor of the reform tonight. Among those was Duke Mason, an unsuccessful candidate in the March City Council election. Mason criticized D’Amico for initially supporting the deputy system, saying he was putting his political interests ahead of the interests of residents. Mason also said the Council shouldn’t be intimated by the lawsuit by Owens. “I say let them sue,” he said. “This city cannot afford to be held hostage by these bullies any more…..”

Those opposed to Horvath’s reform proposal included neighborhood activists, several of whom submitted letters to the Council outlining their opposition. Among them was Sheila Lightfoot, Meister’s appointee to the Planning Commission; Allegra Allison, D’Amico’s appointee to the Historic Preservation Commission, and Cathy Blavis, Meister’s appointee to Historic Preservation. Cynthia Blatt, who has led the opposition to a proposed new development on Kings Road, also objected to the reform. All of them urged the Council to solicit public input before making changes.

Horvath said it is anticipated that those holding jobs in the new support system would be members of Local 3339, the union for city employees. The Council deputies currently have their own five-member union.

The reforms approved by the Council tonight put West Hollywood in line with other general law cities of its size in Southern California, none of whom have full time Council deputies.

The City Council first considered making changes to the deputy system on March 2 but decided to postpone any action until after the March 3 election. At its April 6 meeting, the Council approved modest adjustments to the system and agreed to reconsider it after the June 2 special election, when a full five-member Council would be in place.


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Brian Holt
Guest
Brian Holt

Have you also forgotten about the salary/benefits packages (and the obvious lack of experience to earn them)!? As much (or as little) as this was about “he said she said” crap, most of us are outraged at their employment packages AND the audacity to have their own union. Are you freaking kidding me!? Let’s not forget this one folks. Petty office politics will always be, but not on my dime errrr dollars. And for what? So favors by way of jobs could be handed out like personal paybacks. What a mess. What a stinking mess. Yes! Throw the baby out… Read more »

Chris Sanger
Guest
Chris Sanger

Steve, you keep repeating unsubstantiated charges. Even if Fran Solomon did what you claim without proof, you keep repeating the nonsense that this is what turned this into an issue. That’s not true. It was the allegation that Owens and Rex (acting in others’ interests, clearly political) snooped around to prove this unproven claim that this became an issue.

Let’s wait for the report. Stop telling us what you’d hope happened and trying to present it as fact. It diminishes your credibility.

Steve Martin
Guest
Steve Martin

At some point many residents will miss each Council member not having a deputy but given the sad state of affairs the public had every right to be outraged. We should remember that this issue really blew up due to one deputy campaigning for her boss from City Hall on company time. That deputy was essentially forced to retire. At the end of the day, the public was tired of the dysfunction, tired of the excessive pay and the perception that these jobs were used as patronage, given to friends or campaign workers. While I felt this item was shotgunned… Read more »

Karma
Guest
Karma

This is Karma in acton.. invited by the wrongs of the people who put themselves before the community and acted smug to constituents.. thank god michelle rex is gone.. thank god that ian cannot be in a postion to blackmail the city or his boss anymore.. thank god scott schmidt was ‘interim’.. now let move forward.

WeHoMikey
Guest
WeHoMikey

Thank you, Marco Colantonio, for pointing out the dedication and commitment the Council Deputies show the City – and its residents.

Brian Holt
Guest
Brian Holt

PS: Meister and Co. have really given me pause. I was such an ardent supporter. And this issue, a beyond No Brainer is the one she tries to stall — by spending more money on studies and crap. Sorry if you promised your campaign manager (1st clue you are time deaf) a Cush job. What next?

I’m watching her so much more closely… if I don’t like what I see you can bet she won’t like what she hears.

Brian Holt
Guest
Brian Holt

@Bernadette “isn’t she a Republicsn? She shouldn’t be here at all…” What the heck kind of comment is that? Group think is a recipe for disaster. Last time I checked, we had a two-party system (wish it were more) for a reason! I’m a big D Democrat but I dislike the notion you or any one party alone is the captor or holder of all good ideas. BS! In fact, there a lot of ideas the GOP hold that I believe are better (wait, did I say a lot? OK, maybe just a few) anyway, you get my point. And… Read more »

James Francis
Guest
James Francis

I am extremely proud of the council to put change to a patronage system gone awry and wrong for so many years, that deflected the importance of constituent issues. With petty politics and office infighting that led to bully factions by some deputies who did nothing to deserve humongous salaries with their humongous egos! With inflated salaries some would think these employees did not have time on their hands for eavesdropping and bashing the city and propose lawsuits to intimidate their leaders and expose their lives. Remember the city councilors and the city residents do not owe you your jobs,… Read more »

Marco Colantonio
Guest
Marco Colantonio

As an Advisory Board member, manager of 4 residential apartment buildings and a public safety advocate in West Hollywood, I spend a lot of time at Weho City Hall. Over the years, I have had mostly positive experiences with all of the Council Deputies; finding them to be competent, caring and incredibly hard working, and yes, by design, protective of their respective Councilmembers. In addition to maintaining regular office hours, the Deputies were required to attend most evening and weekend public events, many Comission, Task Force, and Advisory Board meetings and, of course, all of the Council meetings. Council Deputies,… Read more »

Chris Sanger
Guest
Chris Sanger

Some broader observations on last night’s meeting: Several different voting patterns when not a majority: – Heilman alone vs Carnaval contract extension – Horvath and Meister alone voting for council meeting public comment changes – Meister alone vs deputy reform So no clear single bloc. Duran and D’Amico voted on majority side very vote. D’Amico’s reappointment of John Altschul to the planning commission (originally D’Amico ironically named him after Meister was his initial appointee), not exactly popular with Meister’s NIMBY supporters (another clear sign that he is distancing himself from her); also, Heidi Shink, who will be off that commission… Read more »

Snarkygal
Guest
Snarkygal

There was an organized letter writing campaign to the Council members by some of the usual suspects AGAINST doing away with the Deputy system. Fortunately, it didn’t work. These people think that public input is needed on every single thing that happens in the City. Nothing would ever get done.

Disco Dan
Guest
Disco Dan

After Duke Mason endorsed Heilman, I predicted Heilman would appoint him to a commission. Apparently, this is exactly what has happened. Oh, and what can we do about the supposed $500,000 being paid (including benefits) to the City Manager who may own that Tesla parked in the garage in the same building as the CC Chambers?