Public Safety Commissioner Robert Oliver Resigns Over Inaction on Allegations About John Duran

Robert Oliver, vice chair of the WeHo Public Safety Commission, with Ruth Williams

Robert Oliver abruptly resigned from the City of West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission  tonight after all but one of his fellow commissioners declined to address the growing scandal over allegations that Mayor John Duran has sexually harassed young members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.

“I’d like to know why the rest of the commission would stay silent when we have the second, third and fourth allegation against the mayor of our city,” Oliver said, citing a story published on Feb. 5 in the Los Angeles Times and referencing a lawsuit in 2016 in which Duran’s City Hall deputy accused him of sexual harassment. The city settled that lawsuit with a payment of $500,000 to former deputy Ian Owens. Duran admitted hiring Ian Owens after meeting him on the Grindr hookup app and having sex with him. But he denied Owens’  allegations that he acted in a sexually inappropriate way as his boss, making comments in the office such as “I would bottom for you any day” and asking that Owens update his address book, sorting through lists of men Duran had had sex with that were said to have noted the size of their penis or their sexual skills.

Oliver, who is gay, said he was concerned about the abuse of young gay men by older gay men of power. He said he was “astounded” at the silence of the other commissioners. “I have been honored to serve on this commission with you … but I cannot continue to serve on a commission that stays silent on issues of such importance,”  he said.  Oliver then walked out of the meeting room to a round of applause from members of the community in the audience.  Oliver was followed out the door by Estevan Montemayor, a former chair of the commission, who was sitting in the audience. “I’m disappointed in the commission.  I really am,” Montemayor said.

Click here to read the full text of Oliver’s statement.

The only commissioner who supported Oliver’s request that the commission call for Duran’s resignation was Amanda Laflen. “If roles were reversed and an elected official did this to a woman, this wouldn’t be acceptable,” Laflen said. She said there appeared to be a double standard in the gay community when it came to older men in positions of power taking advantage of younger men.

Duran recently announced that he will be stepping down as chair of GMCLA, a non-profit whose board he has overseen for a number of years, after publication by WEHOville  and the L.A. Times of stories in which young members of the chorus alleged sexually inappropriate behavior by him and by Jonathan Weedman, the chorus’s executive director. Both Duran and Weedman have denied the allegations, and Duran has said he is leaving the board because of a “toxic” environment at GMCLA that he attributes to the allegations about him.

Duran has been accused of behavior like putting his hand into the underwear of chorus members and making inappropriate sexual comments to them. Weedman has been accused of forcing a then-20-year-old chorus member to perform oral sex on him. After WEHOville contacted GMCLA board members about the allegations, the organization hired private investigators to look into the allegation against Weedman and one of those against Duran. Duran has said neither investigator was able to gather evidence sufficient to validate the allegations.

The GMCLA board of directors is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss whether to renew Weedman’s contract, which is up for renewal next month. The board also will discuss the organization’s serious financial issues. It is said to be in debt in the amount of $180,000 and to have not paid some contract employees for several months. 

The Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus at a West Hollywood Park rally. (Photo by Jim Garrecht)

Like the majority of the Public Safety Commission, Duran’s fellow City Council members, three of whom are up for re-election in March, have been silent in public about the sexual misconduct allegations. However, when pressed for a response at an election forum on Feb. 6, Council members Horvath and D’Amico said they thought Duran should “take a pause” from his role as mayor. Councilmember Lauren Meister said the accusations, if leveled at her, “would be a terrible distraction from my responsibility as mayor of the city.” Councilmember John Heilman has yet to make a public statement about the allegations.  None of the Council members has addressed the question of whether Duran should resign from his position as City Council member as well as mayor. Meister is the only one of the three incumbents who has declined to accept Duran’s endorsement of her candidacy.

The City Council at its Feb. 19 meeting may, however, vote to rescind a decision it made on Feb. 4  to extend Duran’s 12-month term as mayor by four months, ending this coming September. The Council made that decision as part of an effort to rearrange its schedule to accommodate a state requirement that future elections be held on the state general election date, which will be  Nov. 3, 2020. A Council member is said to have asked that the Feb. 19 agenda include a resolution to change the extension of the mayor’s term.

That meeting also will feature a rally and press conference outside the Council Chambers at  which members of #MeToo Los Angeles, the local part of the international  movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault, will speak out against Duran and Ed Buck, the white political donor in whose Laurel Avenue apartment two black men have been found dead of alleged drug overdoses.  Buck, who is accused of having paid young black sex workers to do drugs at his apartment, has been a major donor to Duran’s political campaigns, giving a total of $14,000. Buck has denied any involvement in the deaths of the visitors to his apartment.

The role of mayor typically rotates among Council members each spring. Given that West Hollywood is a contract city with a Council/Manager form of government, the role of mayor is largely honorary. However the mayor is seen by many residents and media organizations as an official representative of and voice of the city. Duran, who failed in a 2014 run for election for L.A. County Supervisor, has used his position as mayor to promote his political career.  He got nationwide media coverage for declaring May 31 as Stormy Daniels Day in West Hollywood. Duran welcomed the porn actress, who has alleged a sexual relationship with Donald Trump, to an event on Santa Monica Boulevard where fellow Councilmember John D’Amico gave Daniels the key to the city.

Stormy Daniels, aka Stephanie Clifford, with Mayor John Duran on left and attorney Michael Avenatti on right.

Duran also got the city to put on an event at West Hollywood Park where he stood beneath a large “Trump Baby” balloon. Duran declared that West Hollywood is the “epicenter of the resistance” to Trump. A city employee has filed a complaint with the city’s Human Resources Department alleging that Duran made a sexually inappropriate comment to a photographer at the event, suggesting that by laying on his back the photographer was making himself available for sex.  Christof Schroeder, the city’s Director of Administrative Services, who oversees Human Resources, has not responded to several requests from WEHOville about that complaint so it is unclear whether the city actually is investigating it.

Mayor John Duran, left, with drag performers and local residents at West Hollywood Park at the “Trump Baby” balloon event.

Duran is known for being open about his sexual activities  and has stressed the city’s reputation as a center for sexual freedom during the days when gay men in Los Angeles were being persecuted by that city’s police department for their sexual orientation. On a recent radio show he described West Hollywood as a “sex-based city.” 

However Duran has been criticized for letting his sexual pursuits overlap with his official position as a mayor and City Council member. For example, fellow Council member John D’Amico called him out at a Council meeting in March 2016 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 also has called out his position as mayor in soliciting sex on Grindr. An attorney who spoke with WEHOville on the condition that his name not be used said that Duran had reached out to him on Grindr, texting “Don’t you want to be able to tell your friends that you sucked the mayor’s d-ck?” The man, who took a screenshot of the conversation, declined.  “I thought it was tacky,” he told WEHOville.

  1. So…this may be a bit late to the party.

    I commend Robert Oliver’s integrity. It is important to recognize people for taking a stand on integrity, particularly when there is a personal cost for doing so.

    For me, the problem I have with John Duran is that if he’s attracted to you, he’s all over you like a vine, and if he isn’t, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with you.

    That is completely inappropriate behavior by a public official serving the PUBLIC. His private behavior is one thing, but it’s his public behavior I find questionable, too.

  2. A person would be wise to set high values.

    Anyone who aligns with those personally or professionally that do not share your ethical values will sooner or later find that they are either expendable or forever tarnished.

  3. Pretty courageous. All too often we see leaders in our community who self censor because they hold an appointment to a Board or Commission. What is the point of being part of an organization that won’t cleanse itself of a toxic presence? At some point you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. The look of disdain on the face of fellow Commissioner Ruth Williams as Oliver read his statement says a lot about the City Establishment.

    We have been a City of enablers for far too long and I appreciate Oliver for stating the obvious. We can’t claim to be the epicenter of the Resistance when our own leaders act a lot like Donald Trump. If West Hollywood wants to march in the front of the progressive parade then we need to put our own house in order to re-establish our progressive credentials. Bravo for Robert Oliver and Amanda Laflen for having the courage to speak truth to power.

  4. Oliver should get his name on the list for write ins for the ballot for City Council. We need people like him on the Council.

  5. Thank the sky gods for Robert Oliver to point out how Mayor John Duran accused of sexual harassment owns City Hall and how weak appointed commissioners are in not asking Duran to resign.

    The entire ordeal of Duran’s problems is no longer just being observed in West Hollywood.

    California Democrat politicians are now being accused of not encouraging the 60-year-old mayor to resign or being labeled hypocrites in just supporting sexual abuse against women but not young men. Politicians who stay aa mute as city council will soon be considered anti-gay and promoting Duran’s sex-based-city!

  6. I’m trying to understand Robert’s goal here when resigning or quitting. He knows the rules of order and the Brown Act do not allow the commission to take any action unless the item is placed on the agenda and publicly noticed. Duran was not on the agenda. While it’s noble to stand up against wrong deeds and have a voice I think it would have been better if he waited till the city council meeting next Monday and gave the council a chance to speak out or act without the political grandstanding. The Public Safety Commission fails to act on many things that are not in their purvue or that are not agendized. Public service is self-less and we need voices on the Public Safety Commission who are willing to stand up and fight for what they believe without quitting or resigning, or leaving an empty seat just as the commission begins its 2019 work plan. The Public Safety Commission is bigger than Duran or any member and quitting just doesn’t help advance our cities public safety initiatives.

    1. Not surprising that this is your knee-jerk reaction = business as usual from a business as usual guy. But where has that gotten us thus far? NOWHERE. So I am so glad this happened. But an armchair quarterback thinks otherwise. Who cares!

      I hear he also went for the same seat on this commission, lost to this brave kid and remains bitter. Get over it. Sad!

      1. Since Robert is a direct appointee of Lindsey Horvath is he really saying that he expects more from commission members than the city council member who appointed him? Again, this item was not on the agenda and thus is not open for discussion per the Brown Act rules.

        1. He’s actually an at-large appointment. Also, it happened during commissioner comments, it doesn’t need to be on the agenda. Learn your facts, Larry.

          1. Robert is Lindsey’s direct appointee. He used to be an at-large and Lindsey made her his direct appointee two years ago. You might want to clarify before regurgitating.

    2. I doubt that anything in the rules of order or the Brown Act prevent a member from resigning in protest. Taking a stand is equally selfless, and I applaud Mr. Oliver for taking that stand and using his voice in a courageous manner. He did what others have failed to do, and continue to fail to do. The suggestion that he should have waited for the feckless council to do something is absurd, given the history of that body. West Hollywood is having growing pains which are far overdue, and no amount of linguistic lipstick should be applied to this reality.

    3. An old axe to grind over Robert Oliver’s post that was aggressively pursued by commenter.

      Question is when will Duran’s appointees get up and leave their posts? Take a stand folks, the earlier this happens the sooner things will move on otherwise the stench will never wash off.

    4. Larry, there are good reason’s a commissioner resigns and if taking a stand is right who are you to judge.

      Remember you resigned from the Disability Advisory Board so don’t be hypocritical on any other’s and their reasons for resigning.

  7. Very dramatic. But asking the entire committee to abruptly go along with his opinion seems a bit unfair. He only needed to make his own statement, resign, drop the mike and exit stage left. That would have been enough.

  8. Oliver and Montemayor walked out of the commission together. Both of these gentleman work for LA City Council offices so when will their bosses also speak up? Both Horvath Public Safety Commission appointees resign in her first term. When will Horvath speak up?

  9. Bravo. I have been waiting YEARS to hear one single city official to call him out!!!! And by the looks of it, it took one of the youngest to do it. Bravo. Now where are the elders?? Where is council?! Let’s hear from them.

  10. Wow, where is the rest of the city council? Are they tone deaf? Where are the city council candidates? Why is everyone afraid to speak out against Duran? What does he have on them? Good on his kid for speaking out. Hopefully more people follow his lead.

  11. It’s time for John Duran to resign. Robert Oliver clearly showed the courage tonight that our Council chooses not to exercise. Shame on them and hopefully more civic leaders will follow him in calling on on our disgraced Mayor to resign.

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