As a number of prescient cynics had predicted, West Hollywood City Council members tonight avoided dealing with “Deputygate,” the scandal involving their highly paid deputies that has involved allegations of sexual and other ethical improprieties.
Council members spend countless hours pontificating about gay rights in Russia and Uganda and international women’s and other human rights issues from their raised dais in the City Council Chambers in the hope that they will brand West Hollywood (and themselves) around the world as champions for human rights.
But those same Council members seriously damage the city’s reputation (“West Follywood” anyone?) by refusing to deal with their own ethical issues and those of their direct reports — issues that have a greater impact on those of us who live here than does the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s policy regarding “gender inclusive” college dorms.
It was Mayor John D’Amico and Council members John Heilman and Abbe Land who voted tonight to postpone consideration of a proposal to authorize a study of ways to reform the deputy system. The irony is that the postponement was requested by Councilmember John Duran, the council member at the center of the controversy. Duran’s deputy, Ian Owens, is under investigation for allegedly spying on another Council deputy, and Duran has admitted he hired Owens after having sex with him. Duran asked for the postponement because he is out of town, attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. — something as relevant to life in West Hollywood as UNC-Chapel Hill’s dorm policies.
Another irony tonight is that Mayor D’Amico blamed the deputy problem in part on City Manager Paul Arevalo. “Our city manager, he has not delivered fair enough leadership on the third floor and neither have we,” D’Amico said. However Councilmember Land wisely pointed out the illogic in D’Amico’s comment about a system where Council members have hired their campaign managers (D’Amico and Michelle Rex) and those they have had sex with (Duran and Ian Owens). “At the end of the day we are asking the city manager to manage employees that we manage as well,” Land said. “If the city manager has a problem with the deputy, it’s hard to address that.”
D’Amico tonight did acknowledge the seriousness of the deputy issue. “Everyone understands the seriousness of the problem,” he said. “There is no stitching it closed and hoping it heals. This is a wound that has to be looked at carefully.”
But kicking the reform study down the road, as the Council did tonight, makes it unlikely that any significant change will be made in an expensive and dysfunctional system that exists in no other city in Los Angeles County as small as West Hollywood. For one thing, Councilmember Duran opposes eliminating the fulltime deputy system and is said to be interviewing candidates to replace Owens, who isn’t likely to return no matter what the police investigation turns up. Lauren Meister, a candidate who political insiders predict will win in tomorrow’s Council election, also wants Council members to have fulltime deputies. D’Amico told the Council tonight that he had reached out to Meister and challengers Joe Guardarrama, Lindsey Horvath and Larry Block, suggesting that they supported delaying the item.
After the election for three Council seats is over tomorrow, the winners will be under less pressure to clean up this mess. They will be able to continue kicking the can down the road, which sadly is the Council’s typical approach to ethical issues in West Hollywood.