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.
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.
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.