The central figure in a controversy at West Hollywood City Hall that has become known as “deputy-gate” will be back on the job tomorrow.
Lisa Belsanti, the city’s Public Information Manager, confirmed a rumor conveyed to WEHOville that Owens, deputy to Councilmember John Duran, will be back at work as Duran’s deputy. Owens was placed on paid administrative leave in February while the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department investigated an allegation that Owens improperly spied on the private telephone conversations of fellow Council deputy Fran Solomon.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Belsanti said. “It was determined that Owens being back at City Hall will not interfere with that investigation.” She said there was no other information regarding Owens return or position at this time.
Owens was the apparent source of reports that Solomon was soliciting contributions for Heilman’s re-election campaign from her city office. He prepared a document purporting to support his allegations using city software that included quotes said to be from Solomon’s telephone conversations. That document was emailed to numerous email accounts, including that of WEHOville, under the name Matthew Mills. When the source of the document became public, Solomon asked the City Manager to investigate whether her office was being bugged. With the defeat of Councilmember John Heilman in last Tuesday’s City Council election, Solomon will leave her job with the city.
With Councilmember Jeffrey Prang stepping off the Council in December to become L.A. County Assessor, there have been only four deputies of late. In addition to Solomon, Mayor John D’Amico is served by Michelle Rex, his former campaign manager. Abbe Land, who didn’t run for re-election to the Council last Tuesday, is served by Kiran Hashmi.
WEHOville’s revelation that Owens was the source of allegations about improper behavior by Solomon stirred major reaction from West Hollywood residents. Many complained about the compensation of the full-time deputies, who make as much as $190,00 a year including health and retirement benefits. There also were complaints about the lack of responsiveness to residents by deputies, the dysfunctional relationship between Solomon and Rex, who do not speak to one another, and the fact that some deputies don’t work the 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. day expected of most city employees.
Things got hotter in mid-February when a lawyer retained by Owens said that Owens had been hired after Councilmember Duran met him on Grindr, the gay sex hookup site, and had sex with him. Duran confirmed that to WEHOville but denied Owens’ allegations that Duran continued to make sexual advances on him after he was hired.
That allegation prompted coverage of “deputy-gate” across the country in gay magazines, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily News, the nation’s fourth biggest daily newspaper.
The City Council on March 2 met to consider studying options for reforming the controversial deputy system that would include giving the City Manager more direct supervision over the deputies. But the Council voted to postpone any action until after the June 2 special Council election.