The West Hollywood City Council rejected a proposal by Councilmember Lindsey Horvath to consider contracting with Los Angeles County to provide means for city employees to file complaints of discrimination or harassment and to have those complaints investigated.
L.A. County has established a County Equity Investigations Unit that looks into complaints of discrimination and harassment and, if warranted, sends them to the County Equity Oversight Panel, an independent group of employment law experts, which recommends actions for the county to take.
Councilmember John Heilman questioned the county’s ability to efficiently and correctly handle such complaints, citing issues over L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s reinstatement of Sheriff’s Department employees who had been removed under his predecessor. Heilman also noted that it had taken a long time for a mental health evaluator to be stationed at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station. Those issues, however, involved the Sheriff’s Department and not the government of Los Angeles County. Councilmember John Duran also opposed working with the county, saying it was not very efficient.
Horvath’s proposal comes as the city has struggled to deal with allegations of improper behavior by Councilmember Duran. A city employee, Mike Gerle, who has been placed on administrative leave, filed a complaint about a public and sexual comment that Duran made to a photographer at a city event in West Hollywood Park.
Duran also has been the subject of complaints of inappropriate sexual comments or actions by several young members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, a non-profit organization whose board he once chaired. While GMCLA is not associated with the city, Duran’s response to those complaints included comments about the sex lives of his fellow City Council members that some found offensive. The Council has responded by censuring him and barring him from travelling at the city’s expense. It also requires that his official email messages be reviewed by a city official and that he not be allowed to meet one on one with a city employee unless a city official is present.
Duran also was the subject of a law suit filed in 2015 by Ian Owens, his City Council deputy, who alleged sexual misconduct. Duran has denied all allegations against him. However, the city settled the Ian Owens lawsuit with a payment of $500,000 to the plaintiff. And a private investigator hired by the city said that Duran had made inappropriate comments to city staff members.
Heilman recommended that the city survey its employees to determine if there are any perceived issues with the system for reporting and investigating discrimination and harassment complaints. He also suggested the city consider hiring a consultant to look at its system. Councilmember Lauren Meister suggested that the city conduct yearly surveys of its employees, and also do deep interviews with departing employees. City Manager Paul Arevalo said that City Hall now has an employee working group with 18 members from all levels of staff that is looking at the city’s process for informing employees of standards of conduct. He said he will report back to the Council soon with more information about what it has learned.