Day Eight: Council Members Horvath and Meister Say Eliminating the Deputy System Wasn’t an Act of Retaliation

Lindsey Horvath, who in June 2015 brought forth a proposal to eliminate the West Hollywood City Council’s deputy system, and Lauren Meister, who cast the sole council vote against Horvath’s proposal, took the witness stand today to testify that the decision was not meant as an act of retaliation against council deputy Michelle Rex.

Their testimony came in the eighth day of the trial in L.A. County Superior Court in Michelle Rex vs. the City of West Hollywood. Rex is suing the city, alleging that the council’s decision to eliminate the 30-year-old system was an act of retaliation against her for speaking out in support of her friend and fellow deputy Ian Owens, who was put on paid leave when he was accused of monitoring the telephone calls of another deputy with whom Rex and Owens had a bad relationship. Rex is said to be seeking $3 million in compensation for emotional damage and lost wages.

Lauren Meister

Today’s trial in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles also featured Paul Brotzman, who was named West Hollywood’s city manager in 1985, only months after the city was incorporated, and remained in that role for 11 years. Brotzman testified that the city council initially decided to hire deputies to assist its members because they were overwhelmed by calls from media organizations eager to report on the first majority lesbian and gay city council in the world.

Brotzman said he advised against turning those assistants into full-time deputies for several reasons. One was that such a system was expensive and unprecedented in a city the size of West Hollywood. Another was that a person chosen by and essentially reporting only to an elected council member likely would act with that council member’s political interests in mind. Finally, he said, it would be difficult for the city manager to manage the deputies, whose council member bosses had their own full-time jobs elsewhere.

Brotzman said all of his concerns materialized. “On more than one occasion I had to remind council deputies that they could not work on campaigns while they were on paid city time,” he said. Brotzman also cited an instance where a council member’s deputy was discovered to be working to undermine a decision that had been made by a majority of the city council.

Another witness for the city was William R. Kelly, who has worked for 45 years as a local government official or consultant. Kelly’s Kelly Associate Management Group was hired by Carpenter, Rothans & Dumont, the law firm representing the city, to examine how other cities of West Hollywood’s size provided assistance to their council members and to determine the cost of the deputy program.

Kelly said that he and his staff selected 116 of the 482 cities in California whose populations were close to that of West Hollywood’s 36,000 in making their comparisons. They also looked at the other 87 cities in Los Angeles County. “The form of government that West Hollywood had was unique in that you had deputies to the council that had two bosses,” Kelly said, referring to the fact that the deputies technically reported to City Manager Paul Arevalo but practically reported to their council members, who were the ones who chose them for the job. “That hybridization can cause confusion in who you report to and how you do the work,” he said.

Lindsey Horvath
Lindsey Horvath

Kelly said that in addition to West Hollywood, only six of the other 87 cities in Los Angeles County had city council deputies. They are Carson, Compton, Inglewood, Long Beach, Pasadena and Los Angeles. Each of those cities has much higher populations and their deputies are paid much less than were those in West Hollywood. For example, in Compton, which has a population of 101,000, the deputy’s salary is $47,500. By comparison, deputies in West Hollywood made as much as $105,000 a year, not counting benefit packages that including life and health insurance and the city’s payment into their retirement fund.

All in all, Kelly said, the deputy system cost West Hollywood a little under $690,000 in 2015, the last full year of its existence. He said that if the system had continued, the cost to the city would be $768,000 a year after five years, citing pay increases tied to the consumer price index and the deputies’ union contract with the city.

Councilmember Meister testified that the concerns about the deputy system had been raised during her successful campaign for city council in 2015. In response, she called for improvements in the system rather than elimination of it. She said she voted against eliminating the system “because I was new and had not had the experience navigating City Hall that others had” and felt a full-time deputy would be an important asset.

Meister said the city council’s decision to eliminate the system was not an act of retaliation against Rex or against Ian Owens, who earlier had sued the city and settled for $500,000. Owens had alleged that he was fired for calling out fellow deputy Fran Solomon for making campaign calls for her boss, John Heilman, from her council office and for complaining that his boss, John Duran, had sexually harassed him. Meister said she actually voted with her colleagues in December 2015 when they voted on a “last and best offer” to the deputies’ union, ending a lengthy series of negotiations before they could formally dissolve the deputy system.

Meister said that for the most part the current system is working well. “I’ve had a few complaints, but I’d say it’s at 80%,” she said. “The positives are that I’m getting my calls, I’m getting my schedule done as I would have. I’m getting my reports done.”

She said she has some issues with the currents system, in which one City Hall staffer handles calls and schedules appointments for all council members while another researches and drafts proposals for them. “I think our city attorney needs to have a little more of a expanded role in reading the legislation that we write,” she said. “And that if something is controversial, we need to have more outreach to constituents, and that is something that we had before.”

Horvath, who drafted the proposal to eliminate the system shortly after taking office in 2015, said she conducted her own research into city council support systems before bringing the proposal forward. That involved talking to at least 30 people outside of West Hollywood, many of them contacts of hers in the California League of Cities. Her conclusion was that WeHo’s system was “quite unique.”

Horvath said she was aware of problems with the system since 2009, when she was appointed by the council to fill a seat left vacant by the death of Councilmember Sal Guariello. Among the problems were deputies not showing up for work when expected, not responding to constituent requests, duplicating one another’s work and fighting with one another and other council members. “It felt like to me … and to many people in the community, that is was becoming more dysfunctional.”

City Council members John Duran and John D’Amico have already testified in the trial. The city’s attorney is expected to call Councilmember Heilman and his former deputy, Fran Solomon, to testify tomorrow along with Corri Planck, a former deputy who now reports to the city manager and oversees the city’s homeless initiatives.


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Randy
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Randy

Chris, there you are, like clockwork, to jump in Heilman’s defense, per usual. And we all know your disdain for Martin and Blatt. You don’t know who those votes would have floated to, had those other 6 candidates not run. As I mentioned, some would have not voted at all (some of these candidates literally might have had friends, and friends of friends vote for them, for the most part). In this election, I think Martin and Blatt prevented each other from winning, more than anything else. The six other candidates not running probably didn’t tip the scales, but there’s… Read more »

Chris Sanger
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Chris Sanger

The idea that too many candidates change the outcome is utter nonsense. It changes the margin. But it is ridiculous to assume all the votes for the other candidates would go for non-incumbents. COmplete rubbish. Voters decided not only not to vote for the two Johns they also didn’t vote for Blatt or Martin. They rejected them as much as they rejected the two Johns. Some of the voters came out specifically to vote for the ones they voted for and wouldn’t have shown up. Heilman got about 50% of the votes, Duran about 46-47%. Had there have been 4… Read more »

Randy
Guest
Randy

Jimmy, your point is taken. If a person is well-known and looked at as a qualified candidate, they stand a chance. D’Amico and Meister both fell into that category. But your other point is taken as well. All of these other candidates, who need just a few signatures to get on the ballot … they dilute the votes, to a certain degree. And can tip the scales, often giving incumbents the edge. Many unqualified people running for office. In some cases, I think some aren’t even serious about wanting to win. They might do it for publicity, attention, or other… Read more »

Jimmy Palmieri
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So I am to understand that we should now tell people they shouldn’t run for council? If they are qualified they have a chance. Meister did it. D’amico before her. They both have served as activists and advocates for decades. Just because you stand up at a few council meetings, and perhaps get quoted in a paper, DOES NOT QUALIFY YOU TO RUN FOR COUNCIL. If ego’s were put aside, and people who are not qualified, didn’t think they could run such a complex city, then perhaps there wouldn’t be a stream of unknown faces. FOLKS….JUST BECAUSE YOU THINK YOU… Read more »

Randy
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Randy

Guy, I think you are on to something there. There were 2347 votes cast, none of which were for Heilman, Duran, Martin, or Blatt. If those 6 candidates had not run (who received the 2347 votes), and those same voters had come out and voted, it could have changed things significantly, had Martin or Blatt received more of those votes than Heilman or Duran. Duran only beat Martin and Blatt by about 600 votes each. I think that Martin and Blatt canceled each other out as possible winners. I would speculate that a lot of people who voted for Martin… Read more »

guyprivaton
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As long as there are 10+ candidates running against 2-3 incumbents, the incumbents will ALWAYS win. Why? Because it divides the anti-incumbent vote. Incumbents like Duran/Heilman encourage as many people as possible to run for their seats. In this, they will have a guaranteed win. Unless the people self limit the pool to one opposition candidate for each seat… these guys will stay in office forever.

guyprivaton
Guest

WeHo elections will not change unless people willingly do not flood the panel opponents of the incumbents. The incumbents RELY on mass candidates to oppose them because the result will be a divided vote for anti-incumbent voter block…and thereby creating an inevitable win for incumbents based on logistics alone. To win against these embedded incumbents, there needs to be a single opposition candidate for each seat who are united in platform. Its the only way to succeed against incumbents in WeHo. As long was we have a panel of 10 candidates against 2-3 incumbents, the incumbents will ALWAYS win here.

jeffery ward
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jeffery ward

I for one hope they never bring that Deputy System back, it is just too ripe for corruption, if you do not have the time to do the City’s Business as an Elected Official, then maybe you should not run for the Office or even resign now, and NO, they should not raise the Pay of the elected Council Members, serving is an honor and not a career. What I would go for though is expanding representation by adding more seats to the Council, in a Representative Government, adding more representation would be the right thing to do, but not… Read more »

Larry Block
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Larry Block

Rex vs. City of West Hollywood Day 8. It sounds crazy but the trial started and the first clip they showed today was the last clip as yesterday ended. I’m at the public comment podium yelling at council..’This should be a 5-0 vote’ ‘If you are serving the community you will vote 5-0 if your serving your campaign managers then you will vote against this item. And Meister took the stand. Lauren Meister was the lone no-vote when this item passed 4-1 at the 6/15/15 council meeting. Rex attorney hammered on Meisters own words a few years back, more time… Read more »

Josh Kurpies
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Josh Kurpies

@kab1200: to answer your two questions regarding deputies union and high pay, please see my comments in previous articles about the Council Deputy bargaining unit being necessary because there were a few very specific differences between them and other city hall employees that required a similar but slightly different contract (related to overtime and being an at-will employee) In re high wages….. When I started as a Council Deputy in late 2003, the City was in the middle of a “Class Comp” study. The City had hired consultants to do a Classification Compensation Study that closely examined every position in… Read more »

kab1200
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kab1200

Very interesting. I wonder why they were paid so much? And why the heck is there a deputies union?