Councilmember John D'Amico makes a courageous and bold public statement at last night's WeHo City Council Meeting on the $500,000 payout to a city employee Councilmember Duran had sex with and then hired as his six figure salaried deputy
Posted by WeHo Residents Alliance on Tuesday, March 8, 2016
City Councilmember John D’Amico sympathized with controversial former Council deputy Ian Owens and strongly criticized fellow Councilmember John Duran, City Manager Paul Arevalo and other city leaders tonight in comments on the city’s $500,000 settlement of a lawsuit that Owens brought against the city and Duran alleging discrimination and sexual harassment by his boss.
In comments that shocked many observers, D’Amico called out Duran for viewing Grindr, the gay hookup app, on his mobile phone during City Council meetings and at other civic events. “For years I have glanced over and seen John trolling on Grindr for men,” D’Amico said. “I can no longer agree to believe that we can give John Duran a pass.”
Duran has acknowledged meeting Owens on Grindr and having sex with him before hiring him for the deputy position. D’Amico also criticized Duran for failing to tell the city’s Human Resources Department about his personal relationship with Owens before he was hired. Both D’Amico and Duran are gay.
D’Amico criticized Arevalo and LuNita Bock, the city’s former human resources director, saying that their failure to properly manage the city staff and respond to complaints Owens said he made about his peers were factors in the controversy that has become known as “Deputygate.” And he criticized City Attorney Michael Jenkins for not having yet released a report by private investigator Steve Rodig, who the city engaged to investigate the deputy situation.
Owens sued the city after it launched an investigation last year into allegations of misbehavior by the city’s highly paid deputies, who effectively reported directly to the Council members to whom they are assigned rather than the city manager. The investigation was prompted by Owens’s distribution under a fake name of a document alleging that Fran Solomon, deputy to Councilmember John Heilman, was improperly campaigning for her boss’s re-election. The document contained what purportedly were direct quotes from Solomon on telephone calls asking people to appear for a photo shoot for Heilman. When she learned of that, Solomon said she was concerned that Owens was bugging her office.
The incident focused public and media attention on the 30-year-old deputy system, which is unprecedented in cities of the size and organization of West Hollywood. The system has been plagued, especially in recent years, by backbiting among the deputies that reflects the animosity that some of their Council bosses feel for one another. For example, Michelle Rex, the campaign manager for and deputy to D’Amico, and Fran Solomon would not speak to one another. For a time D’Amico and Heilman refused to speak with one another either, and the two still have a fraught relationship. Deputies also have been criticized for being unresponsive to local residents, for not working full days, for interfering with the work of other city employees and for trying to influence city government through their five-member union. Public outrage over the deputy system enabled Mayor Lindsey Horvath to push through a measure last summer that eliminated it.
D’Amico said he believed that Owens was “bullied and shamed” by City Hall officials and described him as simply “a young city employee who needed more supervision.” D’Amico said he spoke up about Duran and Owens because it “is my fear that this kind of thing may happen again.”
D’Amico also said the Council had agreed, apparently privately, to have a public discussion about Council member conduct. He urged the Council to schedule it at its next meeting.
Duran reacted heatedly to D’Amico’s comments, calling out Michelle Rex, D’Amico’s deputy, as part of the “Deputygate” problem. “Your deputy Michelle Rex … She and Mr. Owens were doing a political stunt,” Duran said. “This was always about politics, politics arranged by your deputy and my deputy.”
Duran, as a party in the lawsuit, said he already had read the investigator’s report. He said interviews with city employees showed Rex and Owens were “two of the most detested employees at City Hall.”
In earlier comments tonight, Duran said he wanted to apologize “for hiring a friend. I shouldn’t have done that. But I will never apologize for sexual harassment because I didn’t do that.”
Duran said he regretted, but understood, the city’s decision to settle the Owens lawsuit for $500,000 rather than contest it. The city’s insurance group will cover the cost of the settlement and pushed the city to settle. “If I had great wealth and could have afforded my own attorney I probably would have wanted to go all the way,” Duran said, but he acknowledged that the process would have been painful for the City Council and city employees.
Arevalo objected to D’Amico’s implication that he and other city officials were nonchalant about allegations of sexual harassment. He noted that Owens’ allegation that he had been sexually harassed by Duran came to his attention only when reporters called asking for the city’s reaction to that allegation in the Owens lawsuit. In a comment that he said was directed to city employees, Arevalo said: “It is my duty and my responsibility to give all of you a safe environment. I have done that, and I will do that.”
Arevalo also said the investigator’s report hadn’t been handed to Council members because City Attorney Jenkins had to carefully review the 500-page document and redact names of city employees whose disclosure would violate laws intended to protect employee privacy. The report also had to be provided to Owens attorney for his review before it could be given to the Council.