Opinion: With the Ian Owens Settlement, We Got a Deal!

We got a deal!

Yes, the idea that Ian Owens, former deputy to Councilmember John Duran, will be paid $500,000 to settle his lawsuit against Duran and the City of West Hollywood is upsetting. (Although the taxes and legal fees Owens will pay, and the impact this will have on his future employment prospects, likely will substantially reduce the real value to him of the settlement).

Ian Owens
Ian Owens

But consider this: The $500,000 payout (which comes from the city’s insurance plans) and the tens of thousands of dollars paid as the city negotiated the elimination of the deputy positions are the result of a smart move to end a 30-year system (with its five-member union) that was unprecedented in a California city like ours and was plagued from the beginning by misconduct.

The deputy system was created in 1984 when the new members of the new city council of a new city found themselves overwhelmed by requests for help from local residents and queries from reporters who wanted to cover the launch of the first LGBT-majority local government in the nation. With few full-time city employees, they needed help.

However the deputy system quickly evolved into a political mess. Paul Brotzman, WeHo’s first city manager, told WEHOville in an interview last March that “at one point we had a Council employee working at the direction of a Council member to undermine a policy that was adopted by the majority of the Council.

“There always was a list of Council deputies working to make sure the Council member was re-elected. Obviously they had a self-interest in that. If you’re working on your own time, that should be okay. But if you come in an hour late because you’re doing campaign work, are you really working on your own time?”

And, Brotzman added, the system is “a nightmare for a city manager because the city manager works at the pleasure of the City Council. If you have a Council deputy that you have alienated, you have someone trying to undermine you at City Hall. On the one hand technically you’re their boss or partial boss. On the other hand they have influence over the people who are hiring and employing you.”

That only got worse in recent times, when the Council deputies, working through their union, had the gall to lobby (successfully) against a proposal by Councilmember John Heilman that would have barred them after retirement from returning to full time jobs at City Hall. The deputies also interfered with the operation of city government in other ways — issuing public statements that had an impact on the city’s reputation but weren’t vetted by appropriate city staffers, arguing among themselves and snubbing one another and other city employees, emailing out (under a fake name) a purported list of telephone calls by a colleague, campaigning for their council bosses subtly and explicitly. Yes, there were talented and conscientious deputies (Abbe Land’s Kirin Hashmi comes to mind). But over all the system conflicted with the basic concept of West Hollywood’s city manager form of government.

So let’s consider the end of “Deputygate” a learning moment for a 30-year-old city that still has some cleaning up to do. (The city must still contend with complaints filed by former deputies Michelle Rex and Fran Solomon).

  1. Lesson learned: don’t hire people based on their performance in bed after you find them on grinder.

    the city manager and lawyers should be fired and Duran recalled. end of story


  2. Mimi, just to clarify, insurance is covering most of this, from my understanding.

    I still think it sets a bad precedent to settle, especially with other lawsuits against the city by other former deputies. And it covers up the details of what happened. It doesn’t hold any accountability for Duran’s failure to report his prior relationship to Owens with Human Resources. Once again, even if he didn’t sexually harass Owens, he should have known that that prior relationship could have opened the city up to these types of accusations.

    I was recently watching analysis of the OJ trial, because that is in the news, due to the miniseries. One attorney indicated that the jury voted to acquit because they lost faith in the prosecution, due to their cover up of Mark Fuhrman’s racism. They knew he was a racist, and put him on the stand anyways, when they should have faced it head on with the jury.

    His point is, people hate a cover up. They lose trust over a cover up. And with a settlement, that’s how this feels. The public never gets to know what happened here, and in so doing, will lose faith in their public servants. Especially if the same thing happens with the other deputies, which it probably will.

  3. so now we have to wonder, since the city is so quick to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to “make things go away” how much they’ll pay Michelle Rex and Fran Solomon? Where is the LA County DA in all of this? How is it possible that this is all going on directly under the nose of the city manager paul arevalo??

  4. Duran should have had the decency to resign. But what really upsets me is that the residents of West Hollywood are paying via one form or another for his legal fees. He must be voted out next year. And I knew the City would settle because the trial would bring forth all the truth that the City wants to remain unknown to the public. And, I assure you that this will be the same with Rex and Solomon.

  5. While I can see some of the points of the article, i think any deal where John Duran retains his seat on the city council is a bad one.

  6. Gawd! I was beginning to feel that WEHO was was falling behind in scandals but, being a Boston Irishman, with politically sensitive whiskers, I just knew something would turn up. Interesting to me at this time because I am sorting through 30+ years of WEHO correspondence, mementos and photos and, lo, at the bottom of the pile (now about twenty pounds in weight)along with my “5 year employee” coffee mug, is a picture of the first City Council. Anybody remember Valeerie Viterbi? One of our early dustups.

  7. The deputy system was very successful for many years; it was only in recent years when the deputies began to reflect on the Council members dysfunction and even exacerbate it.
    When John D’Amico got elected, John Heilman refused to speak to him and his deputy Fran Solomon refused to speak to D’Amcio’s deputy. In years past the deputies used to socialize on a regular basis and went out of their way to serve the public rather than be pawns in the petty power struggles at City Hall. While I was surprised by the outlandish salaries the deputies were making, they only reflect the absurd sums that our City is paying our top heavy management.
    It should be remembered that this controversy had its start with Owen reporting that Fran Solomon was doing campaign work for her boss from City Hall. That is not ok. Management’s response was to suspend Owen rather than investigate Solomon. But the fact that Solomon was forced into retirement speaks of itself.
    The basic “victory” for the City is that this case did not go to trial which would have revealed a lot issues that would have been damning to John Heilman and management.
    Unfortunately the current result will simply allow Duran to go in his dysfunctional way without having to confront his issues of entitlement and narcissism. The sad thing is that Duran’s friends and the gay press will continue to act as enablers to a guy who clearly suffers from a narcissist personal disorder.

  8. Boris, Duran did not create the deputy system. He wasn’t even on the Council until about 10 or 15 years ago.

    And what evidence do you have that deputies “did almost no work for the community?” I’m not defending that system, and I think it should have been dissolved. But I’ve heard comments from many city dwellers about how helpful these deputies were to some of them.

  9. John Duran is a DISGRACE!!! For many reasons – involving his past and present behavior both publicly and privately, and as a so-called attorney who gives even that dubious profession a bad name. He is an extremely vain and immature man who makes the entire gay community look bad. If he will not resign and leave public life, he should be recalled, impeached or whatever needs to be done to remove him from office and not be able to inflict his obnoxious immaturity on the public any longer.

  10. Duran is up for re-election in the next go around. VOTE HIM OUT! We did vote out Heilman and he said he would not come back, but he is not a man of his word. He did and the idiots of this town voted him in again. Can’t fix stupid.

  11. This is why old many old timers such as myself who were around in 1984 & before, have a little more insight into how the system got so corrupt & out of control. If the true & honest story were told, it is my opinion that it would reveal the election of John Heilman in 1984 & his ensuing quest for control of the city, as the genesis of all the problems such as this & others, that mounted & compounded over the years, not the least of which was the hiring of Fran Solomon in the 19990s. As a silent observer, I could never see her as anything but Heilman’s empowered surrogate bully. I don’t think there is any question who the city employee was who worked at the direction of a Councilmember to undermine a policy (or policies) that was adopted by a majority of the Council. It goes without saying. That alone was good cause to have Heilman removed from office & I don’t understand the silence of the other Councilmembers or other city management on such a very serious matter. I have seen this “team” in action at City Council endorsing events & it wasn’t pretty. I wish that certain former City Council members would come forth & talk openly & honestly about their experiences at City Hall with John Heilman & Fran Solomon. It would be very revealing, but it will never happen. There is so much more to this story than the surface touches I have read & heard, from that time up until now. But the previous Councilmembers have moved on to higher stations in their lives & I’m sure would refuse to reduce themselves to the level of coming anywhere near this embarrassing mess. I think that Heilman should have accepted his removal from office in the last election & graciously moved on with his life but I don’t think he can bear to release his ego hold on his Council seat, which is his life, & if John Duran is holding on to his seat in hopes of this position elevating him to a higher seat in elected local politics, I’ve got news for him – it ain’t gonna happen. There is good & strong reason why I & many others have called for the ouster of John Heilman in the last election & will do so again in 2017, if he has the cajones to actually seek another term. That goes for John Duran as well.

  12. Agreed…..That dysfunctional system saw the writing on the wall in 2011 when Council Member Heilman proposed changes to the system. The beast immediately tensed up for a defensive attack against Heilman and his office. It culminated in false and sloppy maneuvers by it’s lead operatives on the inside of the system. Some where recruited and manipulated to do dirty tricks and make false claims. But it all backfired and now we are seeing the beginning of the end to a disgraceful political attack.

  13. So for $500,000, we get the end of Deputies yet Heilman and Duran are still there, two people responsible for making and promoting this inherently corrupt system. It’s a system they started, especially Heilman who has been there since Day One, where their deputies were paid an absolute fortune, for doing almost no work for the community, but were there instead to make sure their boss, the councilman, stayed there. And Heilman and Duran are still in office, and I predict they will be reelected again and again cause they deliver on the free handouts to the people that actually vote: their heroes: the freeloaders.

  14. This is the second time the City has paid for John Duran’s Foibles. In 2013 he used the City account for personal dinners, probably one with Ian Owens. In any other municipality these offenses would at the very least force John Duran to resign. Why is the council so earful of this man?

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