New Twists and Turns as WeHo City Council Takes Up ‘Deputygate’ on Monday

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.

jeffrey prang
LA County Assessor (and former WeHo Council member) Jeffrey Prang

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.

West Hollywood City Council deputies Michelle Rex (left, 2014 compensation $189,583) and Ian Owens (right, 2014 compensation $149,610)
West Hollywood City Council deputies Michelle Rex (left, 2014 compensation $189,583) and Ian Owens (right, 2014 compensation $149,610)

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.

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Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
6 years ago

We’ll, I guess the saga of Deputy-Gate continues with the return of Ian Owen to City Hall tomorrow. Yes in his position of Deputy to John Duran.

KG
6 years ago

This is another article that seeks to link Ms Rex to the Solomon-Owens affair but only offers weak connections such as Mr Owens and Ms Rex being friends, and Rex and Owens being cc’d on the same email. And this is another article that glosses over Ms Solomon’s part in the Owens-Solomon affair. Ms Solomon admitted to the illegal act that she was accused of by Owens. These article’s weak (and kind of embarrassing) attempts to link Rex to the Solomon-Owens affair do the residents of WH a serious disservice.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
6 years ago

And the City Manager isn’t pushed around by the council???? Absurd. One way is just as bad as the other.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
6 years ago

Prang had no problem hiring his friends as Council deputies when he was there. But I agree with Jeff Prang on one point: the old system worked well for a long time when Council member expected deputies to act professionally and broke down when deputies simply became personal aides who were busy promoting Council members’ personal agendas and political ambitions instead of serving the public. There could be a different system but I believe the public wants to insure each Council member has a deputy that can insure access to the Council member who often has a full time job.… Read more »

Larry Block
Larry Block
6 years ago

@ Tom, – I’m very friendly with Lauren and look forward to working with her. Differences of opinion is not badmouthing. I prefer a new system as suggested where the council people do not have these 150-175k deputies, along the lines of what Jeffrey Prang is suggesting. Namely, that the city manager oversees the deputies and they are not political but rather work for the people.

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
6 years ago

First and foremost there have to be consequences for all those who abuse the current system. Hiring your Grindr hookup is not ok. Can we get our $150.000,00 per year back, please? Where was the vetting process at city hall? Spying on co-workers is not ok. Running a campaign from city hall is not ok. All those people and anyone else who abused their office will have to get the boot if there is any accountability. I would even say the city manager also has to take responsibility for letting these council members and deputies do whatever they want at… Read more »

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)

Thanks to Hank for publishing this story!

Behind the scenes the council members would rather have us focus on the “system” instead of accepting responsibility for their own deputies. The typical “potomac two step” as they say.

What a joke, as-if the “system” MADE the deputies abuse their position and not the council members themselves.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
6 years ago

First off, there is no “new” system. Secondly, perhaps Meister prefers the way the original system is “supposed” to work and “has” worked in the past before all of the insane bickering etc. The salaries are out of control though.

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
6 years ago

Thank you Hank. This whole mess is beginning to be seen clear and the action’s that need to be taken. Jeff Prang, is correct in his suggestion regarding the total restructure of the Deputy hierarchy.

Meister believes it should remain as is. Well I’ll leave it at her word but only to agree myopic and polarizing.

It is not even remotely believable that D’Amico had no knowledge of Michelle Rex involvement in Duran’s Supervisor campaign candidacy. This, I-don’t-know, or befuddled stance is running rampant on the third floor of City Hall.

We know, why don’t you?

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
6 years ago

Maybe Larry has figured out that Meister is likely to be the D’Amico’s pawn (what’s with this re-elect Mayor D’Amico nonsense anyway) and that her constituency is the very wealthiest of the city’s residents, mostly newcomers who are shocked to learn that they moved into a crowded urban area. But in any event – one of the nutty things about our election process is that if you are a candidate in a tight race, and not guaranteed a victory, or are a strong supporter of a single candidate, why would you vote for more than one person? These people are… Read more »

kayaytche
kayaytche
6 years ago

Tom – I’m not sure that noting that Meister prefers the old and broken system is necessarily badmouthing her. It’s a fact. She likes the old system, Block likes the new system.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
6 years ago

Curious as to why Larry Block is badmouthing Lauren, It was D’Amicio who didn’t endorse you and you used to be friends with Lauren too. So what gives, Larry?? Has the campaign brought out the nasty in you too? I’ve been singing your praises but I might have to reconsider my vote for you at the final hour. Well this and you said you backed the building of the Robo-garage during your appearance on “My Weho Wold” with Joel Q. on youtube, which floored me. I couldn’t believe you supported building this Ca$h Cow.

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