A proposal to update West Hollywood’s Municipal Code to clarify City Manager Paul Arevalo’s authority to hire and supervise senior City Hall staffers drew opposition last night from two City Council members who argued that the Council should have a say in hiring department heads.
The proposal, brought forward by City Attorney Mike Jenkins, would bring the city’s code in line with state law, which applies to cities such as West Hollywood that do not have their own city charter.
In a memo to the City Council, Jenkins said he “recommended that the City Council adopt an ordinance adding language to clarify that the City Manager’s duties include the power to appoint, remove, promote and demote any and all officers and employees of the city, except the City Attorney. This proposed language is consistent with the state law, the common understanding of the city manager form of government, and long-standing city practice.”
Jenkins also proposed other minor modifications to acknowledge the re-organization over the years of City Hall duties.
Mayor John D’Amico and City Councilmember Lauren Meister objected to the change. “We are responsible as Council members and the community expects us to have that authority,” Meister said. “This is like saying we shouldn’t have a House Oversight Committee (an apparent reference to the committee that examines issues involving the U.S. House of Representatives)”
D’Amico questioned Jenkins as to why he was bringing the item forward so many years after the city’s incorporation in 1984. “Taking away future opportunities for the City Council to have input… I think is a bad idea,” he said.
“There had to be some reason that the city manager himself wanted it changed…. ,” D’Amico said. “It feels like there’s this fear on the side of management…. It feels like it’s coming for a place of fear.”
Council members John Duran, John Heilman, and Lindsey Horvath supported the revision. “In the time when the Council was involved in hiring staff, it didn’t go so well,” Horvath said, apparently referring to the City Council deputy system. Under that system, the part-time Council members hired fulltime deputies who reported directly to them. The system was controversial and was dissolved in 2015 after Ian Owens, deputy to Councilmember Duran, lost his job and sued the city and Duran, alleging sexual harassment. The elimination of the system prompted a lawsuit by Michelle Rex, D’Amico’s deputy and former campaign manager, that exposed a pattern of misbehavior on the part of some of the deputies.
Duran, in stating his support for Jenkins’ proposal, said the city was organized like a typical non-profit organization in which board members don’t get involved in day-to-day activities.
The changes that Jenkins proposed bring the city in line not only with state law but with the concept of the council-manager system of government. That system was born in the early 1900s through the work of a young civic activist and New York ad exec named Richard Childs. Childs saw the flaws in various forms of government across the country such as the strong mayor system and the commission system.
That inspired him to come up with the idea of the council-manager form of government, which supporters saw as a well-structured and efficient “business form” of local government. The council-manager system now is used in thousands of cities across the country and has been used in West Hollywood since its inception in 1984. It was first used in Sumter, S.C. in 1913, when Malcolm McLean Worthington became the first city manager in the nation.