The West Hollywood City Council on Monday will take up several recommendations regarding ethics and campaign finance reform.
The council’s consideration of these measures comes almost a year after its Ethics Reform Task Force presented its recommendations and just four months before the March City Council election on which the recommendations might have an impact. The council approved a few recommendations earlier this year and postponed considerations of others. At least two of those going before the City Council on Monday are likely to draw opposition from some of its members because they involve financial contributions from entities that have benefitted those council members in the past.
One is a final decision to establish a city threshold of $1,000 for reporting a “behested” donation. That is a donation to a charitable organization made by an individual or organization at the “behest” or request of an elected official. The State of California requires that politicians requesting donations of $5,000 or more file a behest statement with the state. A WEHOville search of local records last year showed that in recent years only former Councilmember Abbe Land had filed such statements.
The Ethics Reform Task Force reminded the council earlier this year that such filings are required. In May Councilmember John D’Amico filed a statement that showed a donation of $5,000 made at his request by Athens Services, the city’s trash pickup contractor, to Equality California, an LGBT rights group. Councilmember John Duran recently told WEHOville that he doesn’t solicit donations to Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA), the non-profit whose board he chairs. However In October Duran made two behest filings. One acknowledged that a donation of $10,000 was made at his request to GMCLA by Greg Allen Weaver, a singer and board member of GMCLA. The other describes a donation of $10,000 to GMCLA, solicited by Duran from the Arts Club of London, which is seeking the city’s permission to build a nine-story building at 8920 Sunset Blvd. Athens also is a big sponsor of special events of the Gay Men’s Chorus.
A request that the City Attorney draft a behest ordinance with the $1,000 threshold passed in a 3-to-2 vote in September, with Duran and John Heilman, both facing re-election in March, voting no. Assuming there is no shift in position among the other council members, the behest filing ordinance is likely to pass.
It’s less clear what position the council will take on a proposal by council members John D’Amico and Lindsey Horvath to ban campaign contributions to City Council members and candidates from those who seek or have contracts with the city.
The proposal that will go before the council notes that such bans exist in other cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and Santa Monica, which has on the November ballot a proposal to strengthen enforcement of its ban. The proposal before the council asks West Hollywood’s city attorney to draft an ordinance and bring it back for the council’s approval.
City vendors have been campaign donors in the past, although many of them gave minor amounts. An analysis by WEHOville during the 2015 City Council election showed donations totalling $2,000 from small contractors and much bigger donations from Athens. For example, Gary Minzer, owner of Hollywood Tow Service, which has a contract with the city to tow illegally parked cars, gave $500 each to D’Amico and Horvath. Bikes and Hikes and its owner, Danny Roman, gave $500 each to D’Amico and Councilmember John Heilman. The city had appropriated $46,000 to Bikes and Hikes to provide 10 bicycles to city employees.
But, as WEHOville reported in 2014, Athens Services and the Arakelian family, which owns that trash pickup company donated $10,500 to Duran’s 2013 City Council re-election campaign and $33,500 for his unsuccessful bid for a seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. In a recent filing with West Hollywood’s City Clerk, Duran listed donations totaling $2,000 from Athens and one of its officers and his family members for his campaign for re-election next year.
The WeHo City Council in 2014 voted to extend Athens’ trash pickup contract for 15 years without putting it out to bid to seek a possible cheaper offer. The contract is worth an estimated $150 million to Athens, which pays the city about $560,000 a year to serve as its exclusive trash collector. Athens is paid fees for trash pickup by local business and home and apartment building owners.
Athens, which is based in the City of Industry, has been the subject of a number of lawsuits regarding its employment practices and accusations of bid rigging and violating environmental law. In February of last year, a state appellate court upheld a decision to void a contract between Athens and the City of Montebello. As was the case in West Hollywood, the Montebello City Council voted to give Athens a 15-year contract worth an estimated $150 million without putting it out to bid. Athens made significant contributions to a non-profit organization founded by one of the Montebello City Council members. Angry citizens mounted a campaign for a referendum to void the contract, alleging that it had been signed without the knowledge of the mayor, who opposed it. Similar concerns have emerged in other cities such as West Covina.
Finally, the City Council agenda includes a proposal to ban campaign managers from lobbying the council on behalf of business interests. For years Steve Afriat, a major lobbyist in Los Angeles, has managed the campaigns of several city council members and also represented firms doing business with the city. However Afriat has shifted his focus away from election campaigns in WeHo.
That proposal was initiated by Mayor Lauren Meister and Councilmember Heilman and had not been recommended by the Ethics Reform Task Force. A memo to the council notes that the city currently bans former members of the City Council and their deputies, members of the Planning Commission, department heads and division managers from lobbying the council for a year after their departure. It notes that San Francisco bars campaign managers or consultants from lobbying current clients or those they have managed in the past five years. The City of Los Angeles requires that lobbyists register with its ethics commission and disclose their lobbying activities. West Hollywood currently requires lobbyists to register.
The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica. Parking is free in the five-story structure behind the Council Chambers with a ticket validated in the chamber lobby.
I like Athens.
The city editor at the long defunct Boston Post tossed off a warning to us new guys: “This is the silly season, the time before the city elections Don’t believe anything you – but make sure your report it!” Maybe there will be beer chits and free rides to the polling place??
It is an open “secret” that you can’t do business in West Hollywood without donating to the Gay’s Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. While it is a fine organization, there is a clear inference of influence buying in these donations that include bill board companies, marijuana dispensaries and developers. While Council member Duran denies directly soliciting the donations, it is clear he is directing the process. How else would other board members know that the potential “donor” has business before the City? This is just another aspect of how the decision making process at City Hall has become increasingly compromised.
I’m sure Mike Jenkins will draft an airtight ethics ordinance over Thanksgiving.
We’re really good at pretending that we’re about to get serious about campaign finance reform and that whole ethics thing just before any given election.
Athens the “exclusive trash collector”. That is very funny. City council members of all stripes would do well to stay away from such a trashy business and their trashy practices. Come clean everyone, declare your obligations clearly and welcome the daylight. Make the best with what legitimate contributions you have accepted and place more value in your integrity. Integrity often extends beyond budgets of any description.