Opinion: John Duran Should Abstain Tonight on Ace and Athens Votes

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.

John Duran
John Duran

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.

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