The City of West Hollywood and the City Council deputies union have come to an impasse in their months-long negotiations over the city’s decision to abolish the council deputy system.
The City Council on Monday will be asked to approve a “last, best and final proposal” to the four-member union. Under that proposal, the deputies who currently remain on the city payroll would be laid off 45 days after receiving a formal notification from the city. Deputies who have been on the job for more than six months would be eligible for varying levels of severance pay. To date the city and the deputies union have been unable to reach agreement on the city’s offer.
Scott Schmidt, Councilmember Lauren Meister’s campaign manager, would receive compensation equal to 160 hours of his wage. Schmidt, who had been serving as an “acting” deputy before Meister made a formal appointment, managed to qualify as a union member one day before the council voted on June 15 to eliminate the deputy system. Longer serving union members such as Ian Owens, deputy to Councilmember John Duran, Michelle Rex, the former campaign manager for and the deputy to Councilmember John D’Amico, and Kiran Hashmi, the former deputy to former Councilmember Abbe Land, would be eligible for 280 hours of pay.
The deputies have been on paid leave since the June 15 vote. Information provided to WEHOville by City Hall shows that the four former deputies have received salaries and benefits ranging from $52,226 to $37,322 through the Oct. 16 pay period — four months after their jobs were eliminated.
Under the proposal that will be presented to the City Council on Monday, the deputies may apply for any vacancies within the city’s civil service system. The proposal also will make official and final the Council’s June decision to eliminate the deputy system.
Newly elected Mayor Lindsey Horvath pushed through a proposal to eliminate the controversial deputy system shortly after the June special council election. The proposal passed on a four to one vote, with newly elected Councilmember Lauren Meister opposing it. Councilmember John D’Amico also expressed his opposition to eliminating the system but voted with the majority in what he described as an effort to put the contentious issue behind him. Several council members used the elimination of the deputy system to justify their decision in November to grant themselves a 50% pay increase, arguing that the workload for their part-time positions had increased. West Hollywood is unique among cities of its size and type in having had a deputy system. For example, Beverly Hills, a city of the same size, has only one city employee devoted to handling matters for council members. And its council members are paid almost half of what WeHo council members earn.
The council agreed to replace the 30-year-old system with one in which employees with specific skills would assist council members with scheduling appointments, drafting legislation and meeting with constituents. Those staff member report to a supervisor who would report to the City Manager. Under the previous system, deputies were selected by individual council members and essentially reported solely to them. While they were on the city payroll, several of the deputies acted in some ways as political assistants to their council bosses.
The system’s dysfunctions became public earlier this year in scandal dubbed “Deputygate” when the public became aware of the deputies’ high compensation, their internal squabbles and allegations that one deputy was spying on another.
If the council approves the proposal on Monday it is likely to be challenged in court. Michelle Rex and Ian Owens have filed claims against the city, with Owens alleging sexual harassment and retribution for reporting what he claimed was improper campaign activity by a fellow deputy Fran Solomon and Rex claiming retaliation for her support of Owens’ allegations. Solomon, former deputy to Councilmember John Heilman, has retired and is no longer a member of the deputy union. She also has filed a claim against the city, alleging she was the victim of bullying and harassment by Councilmember John D’Amico, who has frequently and publicly expressed his dislike for Heilman, and by other council deputies such as Rex and Owens.