The West Hollywood City Council has scheduled a “retreat” for this coming Saturday at which some council members hope to tackle controversial issues such as how council members are supposed to behave in their official roles and whether some version of the defunct deputy system should be provided or improvements made to the current system of assistance from city staffers. And the council is likely to respond to allegations that City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath improperly allowed herself to be introduced and identified as mayor of West Hollywood while Lauren Meister actually held the title. The retreat will be followed by the regular city council meeting on the following Monday.
Council members initially planned for the retreat to be a private event. Now it has been opened to the public, possibly because of a notification from WEHOville that a closed session to discuss such issues is a violation of state freedom of information laws. The retreat will take place at 9 a.m. in the City Council Chambers at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd, south of Santa Monica. It is unclear at this point whether a formal agenda will be posted in advance, although that is likely.
The “retreat” was inspired by closed discussions by council members about settling the lawsuit brought against Councilmember John Duran and the City of West Hollywood by Ian Owens, Duran’s former deputy. Owens alleged that Duran sexually harassed him and that the city failed to take action on his complaint about that and his complaint about allegedly improper political activities by Fran Solomon, the then-deputy to Councilmember John Heilman. Duran and the city have denied those allegations. However last year the city agreed to pay Owens $500,000 to settle the suit, partially because of pressure from its insurer.
The city council recently adopted an amended code of conduct that applies to city employees and gives more detailed guidance on harassment issues. The Owens allegations are likely to be discussed at the retreat.
How city council members represent themselves and when they can speak for the city is another issue. When John Duran has taken stands on issues such as boycotting Stoli, the vodka brand, and castigating the L.A. County Department of Public Health for a slow response to an outbreak of meningitis infections, he sometimes is identified on television as speaking for the City of West Hollywood.
More recently, some council members were upset at then-Mayor Horvath’s declaration in April that Donald Trump was not welcome in West Hollywood, a message she shared with 87 other mayors in Los Angeles County and in an opinion piece in the Advocate, the national gay magazine. City Attorney Mike Jenkins quickly backed away from Horvath’s statement. “Her comment reflected her understanding that the city’s consideration of special event permit applications take into consideration a variety of factors, such as size of anticipated crowd, security arrangements, traffic and parking management, noise control and the like,” Jenkins said in an email to the L.A. Times. He added that since Trump hadn’t requested permission to hold a rally in WeHo, Horvath’s statement was “hypothetical.”
That position by Horvath, who is thought to have bigger political career ambitions, attracted national media attention and invitations to appear on CNN and MSNBC. Those appearances left some believing that Horvath’s statement was an official position of the city, which does not take stands on candidates in elections.
More controversial, however, is the fact that Horvath was represented as the mayor of West Hollywood on several interviews on CNN after she gave up that rotating seat to Lauren Meister. Horvath has said the fact that she was identified as the city’s mayor was a mistake on the part of CNN. However other council members, who spoke on the condition they not be named, said that Horvath was aware of the mistake and didn’t correct it.
Providing more or better assistance to council members likely will be discussed now that the council has formally adopted a system proposed by the city manager in which staffers with individual skills will be able to help council members with tasks such as scheduling appointments and writing legislation. But they must report to someone in city hall rather than to an individual council member. The council abolished the controversial deputy system in 2015 in response to news about alleged misbehavior by the full time council deputies, each of whom effectively reported only to a single council member.