WeHo Council Deputies Fight to Block Measure to Fix ‘Deputygate’ Problem

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 two remaining members of the West Hollywood City Council deputies union are attempting to block a reform of the controversial deputy system proposed by Mayor Lindsey Horvath that likely would cost them their jobs.

A letter to Mayor Horvath and Councilmembers John D’Amico and Lauren Meister from Aanand Ghods-Mehtani asks that any reform that would have a negative impact on Ian Owens and Michelle Rex be postponed until the resolution of a lawsuit against the city filed by Owens. Ghods-Mehtani is a lawyer representing Owens. The letter was not sent to Councilmember John Duran, to whom Owens reports. Rex, who managed D’Amico’s 2011 election campaign, is now his Council deputy.

In his lawsuit, Owens claims he was retaliated against for disclosing that Fran Solomon, the now-retired deputy to Councilmember John Heilman, solicited campaign support from Heilman from her City Hall office. Owens also claims that Councilmember John Duran solicited sex from him. Duran has denied that allegation.

The city hired Steve Rodig, a private investigator, after Solomon claimed that Owens had improperly monitored her telephone conservations to obtain quotes of her allegedly calling people from her city office to ask them to participate in a photo shoot to promote Heilman’s re-election campaign. Owens sent a mass email under a fake name alleging that behavior by Solomon.

“… Both Mr. Owens and Ms. Rex have recently made serious allegations against the City,” the letter says, referring also to statements Rex has made to Rodig. “In light of those allegations and the fact that strong evidence supporting them has already been brought to your attention, any restructuring of the Deputy Program at this juncture that would lead to any adverse employment action for either Mr. Owens or Ms. Rex would be unlawful retaliation…”

The letter said that Rex has told Rodig that Solomon refused to speak to her for two years after D’Amico’s 2011 campaign, in which he targeted John Heilman and in which he and other candidates accused Solomon of misusing a city credit card. Rex told Rodig that, in conversations with others, Solomon has referred to her as “that f-ing bitch” and that Solomon spit at Rex.

Ghods-Mehtani also asked that Duran and Heilman, who will be installed as a Council member on Monday after winning the June 2 special election, recuse themselves from voting on Horvath’s proposal. And if the city moves forward with changes to the deputy system, the letter asks that Rex and Owens be rehired in positions with similar responsibilies and pay. Rex’s 2014 compensation, including various benefits, was $190,000 and Owens’ was $150,000. It also asks the city to hire a mediator to negotiate a confidential solution to the issue.

Horvath is proposing to replace the deputy system with a team of employees, each with special skills, that would report to the city manager and handle tasks for all five Council members. That approach is unlikely to get the support of newly elected Councilmember Lauren Meister, who has named Scott Schmidt, her campaign manager, as her interim deputy, or D’Amico, who has acknowledged problems with the deputy system but publicly supports Rex. That means Horvath’s proposal will be stalled if Heilman and Duran are not allowed to vote on it.

The deputy system is unparalleled among cities in Los Angeles County organized like and of the same size as West Hollywood. For example, neighboring Beverly Hills, which has roughly the same population and also has a part-time City Council, has a single employee serving all Council members.

Stories about Owens email allegations about Fran Solomon have sparked extensive coverage of what has come to be called “Deputygate,” with local residents expressing outrage about the salaries of the deputies and complaining about their unresponsiveness to local residents. An examination of the system by WEHOville also has revealed issues that include personal conflicts among the deputies, their interference in the work of other city employees and the failure of some of them to work full days.

The attempt by Owens and Rex is not the first effort by deputies to involve themselves in policy making, which is the purview of the City Council. The five-member deputies union, with a majority vote by Rex, Owens and then-deputy Michael Haibach, successfully lobbied against a proposal by Heilman that would barred retiring deputies from returning to full time jobs at City Hall.

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Disco Dan
Disco Dan
6 years ago

Chris Sanger: This happens NOW with members of Congress. They are voted out or retire and then too many become lobbyists making a fortune. The political system has become utterly corrupt and SCOTUS helped with the Citizens United case. Although I (mercifully) won’t be around, it would not surprise me that in 50 to 100 years (MAX), there is no United States of America.

John Mackey
6 years ago

INHO: The City Manager should oversee five reasonably salaried deputies to execute policy set by the Council majority. The deputy aspirant should be assignable to any project deemed appropriate by the council. The deputies should be working for the city, not an individual council member.

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
6 years ago

All council members and the city manager will take full responsibility for having created this mess and will look past their egos and work together to limit the damage and create a system that better serves the residents of WeHo. Yeah right…

Oliver Francis, that was very well said!

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
6 years ago

Very few if any cities our size have full time council members.

Why? It means that if you have a career, you have to commit to leaving it to serve, with only 4 years of job security, thus severely limiting the talent pool that might want to serve.

And with that lack of security, you guarantee (here comes your law of unintended consequences) that members curry favor even more with those that might provide them jobs post-elected career (this is one of the big problems with term limits) and that more desperate to win reelection.

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)

Disco Dan you nailed it:
Maybe FULL TIME Council Members paid an appropriate salary with administrative support but NO deputies.

But admin support “deputies”
answering to manager
other cities set a solid precedent w/out reinventing wheel here

speaking of governing precedent
do other cities have a 5 member deputy union?!?!!?!?!?!

Showbiz Lady
Showbiz Lady
6 years ago

Monday, Monday, so good to me Monday morning, it was all I hoped it would be Oh, Monday morning, Monday morning couldn’t guarantee That Monday evening, you would still be here with me Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way Oh, Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be Oh, Monday, Monday, how could you leave and not take me? Every other day, every other day Every other day of the week is fine, yeah But whenever Monday comes But whenever Monday comes You can find me crying… Read more »

Disco Dan
Disco Dan
6 years ago

Maybe FULL TIME Council Members paid an appropriate salary with administrative support but NO deputies.

joetheplummber
joetheplummber
6 years ago

Kurt above is exactly correct! Mr. Owens Attorney is attempting to manipulate the City Council by suggesting that there is a conflict of interest when none exists. The duty of the Council is to do what is in the best interests of the City–which is clearly to adopt Mayor Horvath’s proposal. No Council person will be faulted for voting yes. A no vote is a clear mistake an will tell voters you are placing politics before people. Mr. Martin, I don’t think we need a task force. Your comments above I believe should be revised to use the word ensure,… Read more »

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
6 years ago

No Steve, your attempts to lay this on John Heilman’s deputy’s lap are pathetic. The scandal arose due to 1) Ian Owens, John Duran’s assistant, for reasons yet to be logically explained, possibly acting in concert with John D’Amico’s deputy/slash campaign manager to illegally find some as yet unproven “dirt” on D’Amico’s Moby Dick, a la John Heilman, 2) Owens having been hired after a Grindr meeting; 3) Owens’ atty late in the day coming back w/ a sexual harassment lawsuit and 4) Wehoville’s invaluable reporting bringing this to our attention. Everyone here knows you despise John Heilman nearly as… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
6 years ago

The deputy system worked pretty well for nearly thirty years. It was a system that allowed a part time City Council become more effective in developing policy and responding to concerns to the residents. What is clear is that the system broke down due to the dynamics or immaturity of the Council members. We don’t need to point fingers as there is plenty of blame to go around. The latest scandal arose as it appears that Fran Solomon had been engaging in campaigning at city hall on the tax payers’ dime. Arranging community members to show up to a campaign… Read more »

jimmypalmieri
6 years ago

While some sink, Lindsey Horvath has attained rockstar status in Weho.

Lynn
Lynn
6 years ago

Blunted after her decade long evil campaign of retribution against John Heilman and Abbe Land, supported by nefarious acolytes, the true catalyst remains at large. It seems poetic justice that while the major targets emerged unscathed, Lindsey Horvath who was nearly swept into the vortex, comes full circle to set the city on a positive course.

Let the opportunistic dirty tricksters inside the palace that implemented this overlong drama be routed out along with their mentors. Better yet they could spare the city additional distraction by forgoing their parachutes and choosing to resign. It might certainly help their resumes.

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