When the West Hollywood City Council takes under consideration Monday a proposal to restructure or eliminate its controversial deputy system, it will have two new pieces of information to think about.
One is a letter from Jeffrey Prang, a Council member for 18 years until he was elected last year as L.A. County Assessor, in which Prang strongly recommends the system be changed. The other is a report by a former employee of Councilmember John Duran’s law firm that Michelle Rex, the former campaign manager for and now the deputy to Mayor John D’Amico, worked as a volunteer on Duran’s unsuccessful campaign for Los Angeles County Supervisor last year while simultaneously holding the full time WeHo deputy position.
In his letter, which will be included in the Council’s Monday agenda, Prang says he wants to “add my voice to what is certain to be a chorus of support for modifications and reform to the City Council deputy program.” Prang notes that no other General Law city in Los Angeles County employs full time deputies for its Council members. General Law cities are organized under state statutes rather than having their own charters as does Los Angeles, whose Council members are full time employees. Prang also notes that only three cities that have a city manager form of government, as does West Hollywood, have deputies for their part-time Council members. And he notes that in those cities — Compton, Inglewood and Pasadena — the deputies are paid considerably less than in West Hollywood. In West Hollywood deputies make as much as $190,000 a year in salary and health and retirement benefits.
“In previous years, Council deputies maintained a high degree of professionalism, working well together, and often served as a means of reducing tension (and conflict) between Council members,” Prang writes. “This, however, requires self discipline and the ability to exercise good judgment in the absence of supervision. Regrettably this has been lacking of late.”
Prang argues that the deputies, who are effectively hired by and report to the Council members, should be managed by the City Manager except in developing legislative proposals for Council members. He also endorsed a proposal under consideration that would create a pool of city employees who collectively handle tasks such as scheduling appointments and legislative research.
Mayor John D’Amico and Councilmember John Heilman with City Manager Paul Arevalo brought forth the proposal on tomorrow night’s agenda to study possible reforms of the system. But any changes wouldn’t take effect until after the June 2 special City Council election. With three seats open in Tuesday’s election and one in the June election, the new Council might consist of newcomers who don’t want to change the system. Challenger Lauren Meister, for example, has stated publicly that she believes each Council member should have his or her own deputy.
That Rex worked on Duran’s campaign for supervisor is likely to raise new questions about her relationship with that Council member and his deputy, Ian Owens, with whom Rex is said to be close. Owens currently is on paid leave while he is being investigated for possible criminal behavior in listening to and disseminating information about telephone calls made from her city office by Fran Solomon, deputy to Heilman. Owens alleged that Solomon violated the law by asking people to appear in a photo shoot for Heilman’s re-election campaign. In the third floor area where the Council deputies sit, Rex and Solomon are known to have a fraught relationship, with neither speaking to one another. That reflects to some degree the relationship between their bosses, D’Amico and Heilman. Adding more heat to the deputy controversy is an assertion by Owens’ lawyer that Owens met Duran on Grindr, the gay hookup app, and had sex with him before being hired. Duran has confirmed that but denies Owens’ allegation that Duran solicited sex while working for him.
Duran told WEHOville that Rex volunteered to work on his campaign and was not paid. Rex told WEHOville that she discussed the Supervisor campaign with Duran, who she has known for a long time, but said she wouldn’t describe herself as a volunteer. If she did work as a volunteer on Duran’s campaign outside City Hall she wouldn’t have violated any state or city law or policy. But any work by her would support arguments by those seeking reform of the system that the deputies are overly political and more focused on promoting the Council members than carrying out the duties specified in their job descriptions. D’Amico told WEHOville that he was unaware that Rex had worked on Duran’s campaign.
It was Dimitri Perparos, a receptionist for Duran’s law firm until he was fired last year, who initially told WEHOville that Rex was working on Duran’s campaign for Supervisor and provided WEHOville with a copy of an email message about the campaign sent by Duran to Owens and Rex and to Brian Bennett, who briefly served as his campaign manager, and George Urch. Urch was the principal officer of the so-called “independent expenditure” committee called “Friends of West Hollywood: A Committee Supporting John Duran for City Council 2013” and also is the principal officer of this election’s “Friends of West Hollywood: A Committee to Elect John D’Amico, John Heilman, Lindsey Horvath and Joe Guardarrama to the West Hollywood City Council.”Such committees by law are not allowed to coordinate their activities in any way with the candidates they purport to support.
Despite its name, the “Friends Of” committee has not spent money promoting D’Amico’s campaign, which political insiders say is because D’Amico endorsed Lauren Meister, who is opposed by the real estate developers who are the source of most of the $130,000 raised by that committee. That committee is the sponsor of a recent campaign mailer attacking Meister that has been criticized for being scurrilous. Duran, in email correspondence with WEHOville, said he did not support Meister. “I do believe that Lauren Meister would be terrible for the future of the city,” he said. “She is myopic in her thinking and difficult to work with.”
The City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow night at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica.