There is no question that City Councilmember John Duran is a proud supporter of West Hollywood, a city justifiably famous for its progressive attitudes and an acceptance of diversity that reflect Duran’s own values. But if Duran really wants to continue to burnish the city’s reputation, he will abstain from voting tonight on proposals that will benefit two companies from which he has received tens of thousands of dollars.
We know that Duran contends that he isn’t influenced by money from campaign donors. He may well believe that. But he is a human being, and our species, like it or not, is influenced by gifts. A nice way of describing that influence is “reciprocity,” a reaction that scientific experiments have proven to be so strong that “a person will feel obligated to return a favor regardless of whether they like the person who originally gave the favor and even if they did not want the favor.” A less kind way of describing it is “pay for play,” a practice that is slowly destroying American democracy by giving undue influence to the wealthy.
Duran has received $44,000 from Athens Services, the city’s trash pickup and disposal vendor, and members of the family that controls it. Athens tonight is asking the Council to extend its contract for 15 years without seeking bids from other providers who might charge local businesses and home and apartment building owners less than Athens does. The benefit to Athens? Estimated revenue of $150 million over that 15-year term. The Athens donations to Duran include $10,500 to his 2013 City Council re-election campaign and $33,500 to his unsuccessful bid this summer for the 3rd District seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
Duran also has received big bucks from Ace Outdoor, the billboard company that is seeking approval from the Council tonight to erect an unusually tall billboard that requires a zoning change. Ace and its president and members of his family have donated $37,000 to Duran’s 2013 City Council campaign and his unsuccessful bid this summer for the 3rd District Supervisor seat.
The only City Council member whose cash donations come close is Jeffrey Prang, who has received $1,500 from Athens for his campaign for L.A. County Assessor. Athens also donated $10,000 to an independent campaign committee promoting Prang’s candidacy. Other Council members have received no more than $500 each for their re-election campaigns from Ace and Athens.
Sadly and inexplicably, the West Hollywood City Council has refused to adopt any sort of ethical guidelines that would bar Council members from voting on matters involving their major financial backers. The Council imagines that as long as it takes stands against homophobia in Russia and domestic violence around the world and disagrees with a University of North Carolina’s dormitory policy that is seen as unfair to transgendered people, it is letting the world know how progressive and ethical West Hollywood is.
Nice as those stands are, the Council needs to take a stand where it actually can make a difference. It’s time for Council members to adopt some sort of meaningful restriction on donations from city vendors and on voting by the recipients of the most outlandish of those donations. Absent that, it’s time for John Duran to abstain from voting on the Ace and Athens matters tonight and show West Hollywood’s residents that he really does care about how the world sees West Hollywood.
Athens also was part of an “independent expenditure” campaign to help Jeff Prang get elected as County Assessor. That allowed Athens to get around campaign contribution limits. I don’t see Athens as much as a bad player in the West Hollywood political landscape but as something of a victim; our City Council does not allow anyone doing business in the City without some sort of pay off. So when I find it very difficult to reconcile John Duran as a shining progressive when he has done more than almost anyone on City Council to foster the “pay to play” politics… Read more »
As they say, where there’s smoke, there’s C R I M E
The absence of ethics is not a crime, Tom Smart.
Isn’t the California Attorney General’s Office supposed to investigate crimes such as these???
very well said, Hank! I would however leave out the word “inexplicable” when referring to the absence of ethics guidelines.
with WeHoville shining a bright light on the staggering dollar amounts that our incorruptible council members are receiving from city contractors, more people are now paying attention.
it is time for council members to take a stand. the times they are-a-changing.
If Mr. Duran fails to recuse himself, it will reveal another aspect of his character that being the emboldened manner and disrespect for the constituents he has pledged to serve.
I don’t think I’d take bets on this. I doubt Mr. Duran will recuse himself. Perhaps speakers will bring it up during pubic comment.
Well said Hank. This is corruption to the highest degree. And it’s not even shady backroom dealings, it’s all taking place in the light of day.
Hear, Hear Hank Scott! Memo to Mr. Duran: It’s Fall, turn over a new leaf and start to wean yourself away from your drug of choice $$$$$. Just say no, or at the very least recuse yourself.