Mayor Horvath Proposes Major Change to WeHo Council Deputy System

Mayor Lindsey Horvath will ask the West Hollywood City Council on Monday to take a series of concrete steps to reform its controversial deputy system.

Mayor Lindsey Horvath
Mayor Lindsey Horvath

In a proposal that was distributed to Council members today, Horvath calls for dissolving the current system, in which each Council member has a full time deputy who effectively reports only to him or her. She would replace it with a team reporting to the City Manager, each of whose members would have specific skills and would work for all of the five Council members.

The City Council first considered making changes to the deputy system on March 2 but decided to postpone any action until after the March 3 election. At its April 6 meeting, the Council approved modest adjustments to the system and agreed to reconsider it after the June 2 special election, when a full five-member Council would be in place.

“With a full City Council now positioned and three current vacancies in the Deputy Structure, the ideal time for change is now,” Horvath said in her proposal to the Council. “As the Council seeks to move forward with 21st century leadership and ideas, it seems appropriate for the City Council Deputy Structure to follow suit. A new City Council support structure will provide an opportunity to increase productivity and transparency, as well as to respond to expressed constituent concerns and to better serve the residents of West Hollywood. It will provide day-to-day support to all five Council members, efficiently use City resources, and most importantly increase the level of professionalism and customer service that community members expect and deserve.”

The deputy system, which was put in place shortly after the city’s founding in 1984, has long been controversial among city staffers who view some of the Council deputies as focused more on the political careers of the Council members they report to than on civic affairs and constituents services. In an interview in March, Paul Brotzman, the city’s first full time city manager, said the system had been replete with conflicts since its beginning.

Behind-the-scenes rumbles about the system became a public outroar in February when Ian Owens, deputy to Councilmember John Duran, sent out an email message under a fake name alleging improper behavior by Fran Solomon, the now retired deputy to Councilmember John Heilman. Solomon requested the city investigate the possibility that Owens was bugging her office, noting that he included alleged quotes from conversations in which she purportedly asked people to participate in a photo shoot for Heilman’s election March re-campaign. The city briefly suspended Owens and hired a private investigator to look into the matter. Owens responded by hiring a lawyer who filed suit against the city, stating he was improperly suspended and that Duran had hired him after meeting him on Grindr, the gay sex hookup site, and had sex with him. Owens said that Duran continued to make sexually suggestive comments to him while he was working as a deputy, an allegation that Duran has denied. Owens now is back at work at City Hall while the investigation continues.

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)

The matter sparked an investigation into the system by WEHOville that revealed to the public that Council deputies are very highly paid (with total compensation, including benefits, of as much as $190,000) and that some of them have a reputation for not working a full day, for having acrimonious relationships with one another, for not responding to requests for help from local residents and for interfering with the work of other City Hall staffers. The deputies’ five-member union also has gotten involved in policy matters, taking a stand against a proposal by Councilmember Heilman that would have prevented the city from hiring them back after they left their deputy jobs. City Manager Paul Arevalo told the Council at a meeting in April that the current system is difficult for him to manage. While the deputies technically report to him, in practice they report to the Council members who hire them. The controversy, which local activists have branded “Deputygate,” has gotten coverage from local and national press.

In her proposal, Horvath noted that West Hollywood’s system of full-time deputies is unique among cities of its size or with a part-time City Council structure. She proposes that specific deputies be named to handle administrative support tasks (scheduling meetings and events, drafting letters, etc.), provide legislative support (research policy issues and draft items for the City Council agenda), provide field support (attend community meetings and manage requests for help from City Hall from local residents). They would report to a supervisor who would coordinate their efforts and would report to the city manager.

Horvath said it is anticipated that those holding these positions would be members of Local 3339, the union for city employees. The deputies currently have their own five-member union. With shifts in City Council membership because of elections, there currently are only two full-time deputies in permanent positions. One is Michelle Rex, deputy to Councilmember John D’Amico, who ran his 2011 election campaign. The other is Ian Owens. Kirin Hashmi, deputy to former Councilmember Abbe Land, currently is assisting Horvath as a “limited assignment.” Scott Schmidt, who managed the campaign for newly elected Councilmember Lauren Meister, has been named by her as her interim deputy.

The re-election of Heilman in the June 2 special election after his loss in the March election may give Horvath at least one vote to advance her proposal. In a response to a question about reforming the deputy system as part of WEHOville’s Citizens Agenda election questionnaire, Heilman said he support a major change. It is unclear where John Duran stands on the issue. In her response to a Citizens Agenda question on the issue, Lauren Meister opposed eliminating the deputy system, and John d’Amico, while agreeing that changes needed to be made, said the deputy system allows checks and balance between the Council and city staffers. While Rex, D’Amico’s deputy, has been accused of being the source of much of the personal animosity among the deputies, D’Amico has continued to express his support for her.

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Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
6 years ago

Congratulations to Lindsey Horvath for her leadership in getting this deputy mess cleaned up & revised with a common sense proposal that will serve both the City & the constituents more efficiently & without resident prejudices. I predicted she would accomplish this with the support of Heilman & Duran & am very pleased that tonight John D’Amico voted with the majority even though I think it was a little painful for him to do so. I respect those who did what they felt was best over all for the city & for the whole city staff rather than what was… Read more »

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)

good

Josh Kurpies
Josh Kurpies
6 years ago

There is a significant piece of information missing from the timeline of events decribed in paragraph 6 above. It is my understanding Mr. Owens was not suspended because Fran Solomon thought he had bugged her office, but because it was discovered he had used city property to create the document log that he then sent out – essentially a personal use of city property/taxpayer resources. It was upon this discovery that the City placed him on leave, allowing time for an investigation as to whether and what extent this act violated the law. I’m sure the matters being looked into… Read more »

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
6 years ago

Scott – I’ve had frequent interaction with city employees over the years, usually satisfactory results, over a wide range of issues without ever once talking to a deputy. Maybe others have had different experiences (and yes, interacting w/ a member and getting his/her attention might be easier w/ a designated deputy), but I’m not sure communications and results are going to be that different under this better system.

Scott T Imler
Scott T Imler
6 years ago

I’m glad to see the outpouring of support for Mayor Horvath’s leadership in proposing concrete reforms to the Council Deputy system. The great irony is that John Heilman and Abbe Land, who were largely castigated in the 2011 election for her appointment, were likely more attuned to her leadership potential than those who chose to vilify all three of them in pursuit their own political ends. While I think the compensation packages are absurd as currently constituted I do not believe that the “office pool” solution will leave residents feeling better connected to or heard by the council members. For… Read more »

Brian Holt
Brian Holt
6 years ago

Horvath for President! Ok. So I’m a bit excited. But seriously. This is leadership and this is how to earn votes: listening to the roar of your constituents! Go get’m Lindsey. You’ll have NO problem being relented of this is all you do! I love you. I’m so disappointed in Lauren…

Nir Zilberman
Nir Zilberman
6 years ago

time to change. agree 100%.
it’s time to move on!!!

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
6 years ago

I am total support of the Horvath report/proposal. Mayor Horvath has lead from day one with deep conviction and thorough and rational procedure that is long overdue. This proposal will become the model that produces maximum productivity, and cohesive working environment. Mayor Horvath is doing the hard work we expect and will prove to be result oriented to the likes that we have not seen in over four years.

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
6 years ago
Wesley McDowell
Wesley McDowell
6 years ago

It looks like we’re all pretty much in agreement on this one, a real rarity! The proposed system looks fair and reasonable, but I do wonder how many deputies are needed. From what I’ve read previously, it doesn’t sound like that is enough work to keep 5 overpaid people busy. Maybe the number can be reduced Theressa saving money as well as reducing the chance that it will devolve into the current system.

joetheplummber
joetheplummber
6 years ago

Tea parties are for little girls. In 2015 we end the silly stuff and start with a clean slate. People who work for the People! This should be a 5-0 vote!

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
6 years ago

Woody, let’s see what the report on the Owens allegedly illegal snooping on Solomon report says. There’s been a lot of speculation that Rex was deeply involved. She’s innocent until proven guilty of course, but that is the source of much of the questions about her.

There is also a sense that in some cases (Rex and Schmidt now with Meister) that they take the lead on policy and their bosses take their cues from them. I’d prefer council members to make up their own minds and not uses their campaign managers to make political decisions for them.

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