Opinion: How Can West Hollywood Fight Donald Trump Yet Accept John Duran as Mayor?

west hollywood city council, ian owens, deputygate
John Duran being sworn in as mayor pro tem (Photo by Jon Viscott, courtesy of the City of West Hollywood)

At the final City Council meeting of 2017, Larry Block recited his annual holiday poem to commemorate the events of the year. Block delightedly recounted how Michelle Rex, John D’Amico’s former deputy, lost her lawsuit against the City of West Hollywood for wrongful termination. He went on to say that Rex’s loss represented a vindication, not only for the city and its decision to eliminate the council deputy system, but also a vindication of the sexual harassment claims against John Duran.

This is patently absurd; nothing more than fake news. There is no vindication for John Duran. The city settled Ian Owens’ sexual harassment claim for half a million dollars. That says it all.

While some delude themselves into believing the line that this $500,000 was not an admission of guilt but merely a payment to avoid the “nuisance” of taking the case to trial, that simply does not make sense. John Conyers, one of the longest serving members of Congress, recently resigned when it was revealed he paid $27,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim of a female staff member 17 years ago. A 2016 Time magazine cover story on sexual harassment reported that the average recovery in such cases was $95,000. These figures help put some perspective on why the city’s insurance carrier insisted on settling the case for half a million dollars; it feared that based upon the state of the evidence, if the case went to trial Ian’s recovery may have been even greater.

While Duran himself proclaimed his vindication to the Los Angeles Times in the story reporting the verdict in the Rex case, as an attorney he is aware that Rex’s loss in no way disproved Ian Owens’ accusations of sexual harassment and hostile work environment. That issue was not decided by the jury. If Duran wanted vindication, he had the legal right to have the Owens case taken to trial. Obviously Duran was afraid to take that step. Personally I believe if elected officials are falsely accused of such conduct, they have not only a right but a legal obligation to seek vindication before a judge and jury, not only to save their reputations and integrity but to discourage fabricated allegations. But Duran was a coward and knew that taking this case to trial would be a disaster.

Former West Hollywood City Council Deputy Ian Owens, left, with Councilmember John Duran (Facebook)

But what is lost in all the salacious allegations revealed in the Owens and Rex lawsuits is that we really only know two relevant uncontroverted facts about this controversy. First is that is that John Duran had a consensual sexual relationship with Owens and that a few months later Owens was hired as Duran’s deputy, with a six-figure salary. Duran violated his moral and ethical obligation as an elected official to inform to inform the City Manager or the head of Human Resources of his sexual relationship with Owens before Owens was hired. Indeed Owens alleged in his lawsuit that Duran specifically told him not to mention their encounter when he was interviewed for the job.

As an attorney John Duran is aware that a supervisor should inform the Human Relations Department of a prior romantic or sexual relationship for any person applying for a job where that person would be under his direct supervision. Such relationships can (and in this case did) expose the employer to an expensive law suit. In the private sector a violation of this requirement often results in instant termination. West Hollywood’s own sexual harassment training includes alerting employees of this mandatory disclosure.

This mandatory disclosure is meant to prevent disruptive office romances with their potential for blackmail and to protect employers from sexual harassment lawsuits arising when romantic relationship sour. Thus when Duran failed to inform the city about his prior sexual relationship with Ian Owens he violated his oath of office and his fiduciary duty to the citizens of West Hollywood.

John Duran in January 2012 yelling at Torie Osborne, winner of the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic Club endorsement over Betsy Butler, who Duran supported. Duran interrupted the meeting with shouts of “bullsh-t” and walked out, saying “I’m not being a misogynist, I’m working for a woman (a reference to Butler). Wake up! They’re not all lesbians!”

Duran’s failure to report the relationship ultimately prejudiced the city’s legal position in the Owens lawsuit. When the L.A. Times reported the Ian Owens settlement on Feb. 23, 2016, Duran complained that “people are trying to make him (Owens) sound like he was unqualified for the job” and believed Duran was using Grindr as an employee search app. Ironically during the Rex trial, Duran changed his tune and alleged that the city’s Human Resources department was slack in not discovering that Owens had inflated his “qualifications” in his employment application. Like most members of the public I thought Owens passed his interview during the Grindr hook up. But like most narcissists, Duran simply cannot take responsibility for his actions.

I first became aware of Ian Owens in August 2012, during National Night Out. I was at the Norma Triangle event talking to a friend when I saw John Duran happily in the embrace of a handsome young man. Duran was insisting residents take selfies with him and Owens; their cheek to cheek pose would ultimately become infamous. I mentioned to my friends that it looked like Duran had a new boyfriend. My friend corrected me saying Ian was his new City Council deputy. He then said “this looks like it’s going to be trouble.”

As predicted, it was trouble. Owens turned out not to be a completely starstruck sycophant. Once installed on the third floor he rapidly became disillusioned with the antics and back biting. This was not the progressive workplace he had envisioned. According to his lawsuit, Owens was troubled by what appeared to be inappropriate fundraising at City Hall. When he brought his concerns to Duran, he was blown off. He was troubled by Duran’s conduct, which reduced him to a sexual cipher, a mere ornament that was subject to Duran’s incessant exploitation. Owens’ physique was a constant source of comment by Duran who would allegedly describe Owens to constituents as “hot” and an “A-list” item, as if to bask in the reflection of Owens’ youthful glow. According to Owens he has constantly being badgered for sexual favors; “I’ll bottom for you” being the most memorable quote attributed to Duran in the lawsuit. Duran apparently characterized the offer as some sort of employee bonus.

While Owens claims he was subjected to a least a hundred instances of harassment, Duran’s defense was astounding: He claimed that since he only comes to City Hall a couple of times of month, so Owens’ numbers are a fabrication. Most council members come to City Hall two or three times a week. Clearly Duran’s dedication to his public position is called into doubt by this admission.

An old Grindr profile of West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran.

That lack of dedication to the public has been repeatedly chronicled. On April 11, 2016, the Los Angeles Times also quoted John D’Amico, who described Duran as regularly “trolling for men on Grinder,” the gay sex app, during City Council meetings,” something that had been rumored for years and makes a mockery of the Council’s public comment period. “This is not gay life excuse time” an exasperated D’Amico stated, venting his frustration with Duran’s immature lack of focus on the business of the city.

During the Rex trial Duran tried to rationalize his conduct with Owens by telling a slack-jawed jury that his conduct was simply typical gay male behavior and that gay men can’t be held to the same legal sexual harassment standards because we live by different rules. Obviously this is not the state of the law, and it is embarrassing that a member of the Bar would stoop to such self-serving perversions of the truth. This absurd tirade, which Rex’s attorneys did not bother to refute, is the basis of Duran’s claim of “vindication.”

As we enter the second year of the Trump Dark Ages, West Hollywood has positioned itself as a leader in the Resist movement, leading the charge against the sexually harassing narcissistic sociopath who currently occupies the White House. But how can progressive West Hollywood lead when one of our own leaders is a sexually harassing narcissist, a Donald Trump mini-me?

It is hard reconcile our community’s progressive values while we continue to embrace John Duran. The Ian Owens controversy is not just an example of how power can be abused. It exemplifies how the powerful know they can abuse their power and count on the silent acquiesce of those around them, who find no incentive to identify with the victim and every incentive to either rationalize or ignore the conduct of the abuser. In the case of sexual harassment, silence equals acquiescence. That silence, the silence of the cowardly, the silence of the self interested, legitimizes both the abuse and the abuser, making all of us guilty.

We cannot proclaim our progressive values and have a mayor who clearly mocks those values. Mayor Pro Tem Duran’s tenure has been marked by bringing pay to play politics to West Hollywood, misogyny, alleged abuse of city credit cards, sexual harassment and repeated betrayals of the LGBTQ community. In Year Two of the Age of Trump, we cannot have an irresponsible and immature mayor who so closely mirrors the destructive narcissism of our Commander in Chief.

Our City Council does not have the courage of its self-proclaimed convictions and will promote Duran to become our next mayor. Unless we stand up and put our own house in order, West Hollywood will have abdicated all claims to moral and progressive legitimacy, and we will be no better than the people who put Donald Trump in the White House.

Opinion pieces such as this reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of West Hollywood Media Company or WEHOville unless they carry the byline of publisher and editor Henry E. (Hank) Scott.


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J Simmons
Guest
J Simmons

We HAVE TO hold ourselves as accountable for the still growing wave of women having the exact same situation. IT IS OUR DUTY TO SHOW THE WORLD AS THE CITY IS ALL IN BEING THE VISUAL AND VOCAL VOICE DECLARING EQUALITY AND NO DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GLBTQ et al PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, STARTING FIRST AS AN EXAMPLE, IN THE CITY OF WEST HOLLYWOOD. AL FRANKEN LOST HIS HOUSE SEAT OVER FAR LESS SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL ALLEGATIONS MADE AGAINST DURAN AND AT LEAST ONE OTHER I REMEMBER READER HERE ON WEHOVILLE. NO DOUBLE STANDARDS. I personally find John Durans comments… Read more »

fine7760
Guest

This is not in support of John Duran but instead asking a question. How many employees of the city have been employed here because they knew someone in a high position that helped them secure their job? This could be just a friend or a friend they knew sexually as well.

David Reid
Guest

No council candidate has ever gotten a majority (50% +1) of the vote. With the open field voting you need only more than anyone else. No primary, no run off system. There are always plenty of egos to fill the ballot. The automatically also-rans divide the anti-incumbent vote. West Hollywood has never had a 25% turn out for a city election. (1984 Cityhood vote it was not a city at the time). So the win by the incumbents in the last election was not a majority nor a mandate. It was working the system, totally legal, but very specific and… Read more »

e-ric
Guest
e-ric

Others have resigned for less.

Duran’s presence on Council is an affront to any semblance of ethical conduct.

Those on Council and in City Management providing cover for Duran should reflect on their morals and consider resigning as well.

“Forgiveness” was not on the mind of the electorate who voted Duran back in office, it was something else.

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

Owens should have never taken the job if he felt harassed. The dynamic of the relationship was already there prior to his employment. Just another desperate gay looking for easy money. Glad he moved to Boston, still a liberal city but not as easy to scam taxpayers out of money.

Michael G.
Guest
Michael G.

@Steve C: It seems Councilman John Duran’s dealings with Ian Owens was a whirlwind Grindr hook-up plus job interview, and a six-figure assistant position.

The scenario is definitely “pay to play” with a half a million dollar pay off by the taxpayers of West Hollywood.

West Hollywood now stands out as a city condoning sexual harassment and trying to sweep it under the rainbow flag.

Unless Duran resigns, these image problems won’t go away and West Hollywood could now face big-time boycotts from the #METOO movement.

A hashtag could be: #WEHOsaysMETOOsucks.

Local Yocal
Guest
Local Yocal

@JV ‘you don’t understand how the voters voted for him’. Yes many – thousands – a record turn out. Your comments show there is a lot more than that you do not understand besides how how a majority of people voted for John Duran. And it’s clear you don’t respect your fellow West Hollywood voters either.

Ty Geltmaker & James Rosen
Guest
Ty Geltmaker & James Rosen

Any and all (if there are any left) principled members of the City Council should resign the minute Duran is sworn in as mayor. Just step down from the dais and leave the chambers.

A Concerned Citizen
Guest
A Concerned Citizen

And leave him by himself, in power? You think that makes for a better situation? Not even sure what city law would call for in such a situation, but probably a special election to fill the four vacant seats, and a Council made up of one person in the meantime?

Michael G.
Guest
Michael G.

The bottom line is that the West Hollywood politicians are flipping the bird to the #MeToo movement.

WEHO is no longer the “Creative City” but will now be known as the “Anti-#Me Too Movement City.”

And John Duran is their WEHO Teflon Grindr Man!

J.V.
Guest
J.V.

I don’t think Martin’s argument needs any polishing, Larry. And if you’re not trying to stick-up for Duran here, you should have refrained from commenting rather than trying to take a swipe at Martin. But admittedly, it is hard to get you to be quiet on anything because you’re always seeking publicity. As for Duran, he is a pathetically immature person and an embarrassment to the City. How did he win reelection after the Deputygate scandal? I can’t understand who would vote for him!

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

@conerned citizen – your points are well taken . And on a side note Steve has been my neighbor and friend for many years and I’ve learned much from him – I know he could have polished this argument with more gravity if he put aside some of the personal stuff.

A Concerned Citizen
Guest
A Concerned Citizen

Larry Block, even if you feel that Duran was exonerated by a PI, do you not think that his not reporting the sexual relationship to HR, that, in itself, is grounds for him to resign? That was completely arrogant, and inappropriate. Further, as Steve Martin pointed out, he could have went to trial to get a full exoneration, and the amount of the award that the insurance company gave Owens does say something about how they thought a trial might go. No idea whether he sexually harassed Owens, or not. But he put the city’s reputation at risk by hiring… Read more »

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

@michael g – sir – your thinking of somebody else if you know me as lauding praise. I’ve stood at the public comment with my thoughts- which at times spoke against campaign donations or no bid contracts or crosswalks and many other things. Your also very uniformed as to the cities independent investigator that was an outside investigator with no bias a sort of Robert mueller – and to your other point that was completely wrong— the last thing the city wanted was a jury trial downtown that would result in a big judgement for the plaintiff- if you paid… Read more »