Day Six: Councilmembers Duran and D’Amico Agree and Disagree

John D’Amico (left) and John Duran in the City Council Chambers.

Testimony in the sixth day of the trial in the case of Michelle Rex vs. the City of West Hollywood offered a fascinating look into the sometimes close and sometimes contentious relationships between two of the city’s politicians and between their deputies and others at City Hall.

Today’s witnesses included three major players: City Councilmembers John Duran and John D’Amico and Rex, D’Amico’s former deputy. Rex is suing the city, alleging that it eliminated the deputy system (and thus her job) in retaliation for her defense of her friend and fellow deputy Ian Owens, who was discovered to have been monitoring the conversations of a third deputy with whom both he and Rex had a fraught relationship. Rex is said to be seeking $3 million.

As witnesses, Duran and D’Amico were required to leave the courtroom after their testimony today. As a plaintiff, Rex remained, looking toward the front of the courtroom without any obvious emotion while Duran criticized her for allegedly politicizing the deputy system and then crying and wiping her eyes when D’Amico talked about how much he admired the work she did and regretted that she lost her job. “She was a terrific person to work with,” he said.

Michelle Rex

Duran and D’Amico both agreed that the deputy system, in place since the city was founded in 1984, was troubled. Duran said the problems were evident well before he took office. D’Amico said he had heard complaints from constituents about poor response from deputies. He even agreed that he had heard complaints about Rex’s behavior. But he said he was reluctant to confront her with what other people were saying about her.

Both also agreed to one degree or another that Ian Owens, whose monitoring of Fran Solomon’s phone calls sparked the controversy that came to be known as “Deputygate,” had performance issues. But Duran and D’Amico differed as to who was responsible for Owens’ performance problems.

Duran, who had said Owens and Rex were “the two most detested employees in City Hall,” described Owens as someone who was difficult to manage, particularly because he wasn’t in City Hall often to directly oversee his deputy. “It required a lot more intervention and supervision and having to correct things with him over the two years I worked with him,” Duran said, comparing Owens to his former deputy Hernan Molina, who Duran said performed well.

Duran said that in meetings with constituents or business interests Owens sometimes would make demands that Duran disagreed with. “He said ‘the council member wants this’ — things I didn’t want. He was acting as another councilmember….”

Duran said the deputy system was flawed in part because the deputies were political appointees and thus difficult for the city manager to effectively supervise. “He had no ability to discipline them other than come to us and say your deputy is causing a problem,” Duran said of City Manager Paul Arevalo.

D’Amico said he “had some empathy for Mr. Owens, who was a young man working in a complicated environment with questionable oversight.” Because of the problems with Owens’ behavior and performance, D’Amico said, he should have had better oversight and support.

Ian Owens (Photo from LinkedIn)

The two council members agreed that neither had heard any complaints from Owens or Rex or anyone else that he had been sexually harassed by Duran.  Allegations of sexual harassment by Duran and that he lost his job as retaliation for monitoring Solomon’s phone calls were the basis for a lawsuit that Owens brought against the city and Duran in May 2015. The city settled that suit with a payment to Owens of $500,000. Both the city and Duran denied Owens’ allegations.

D’Amico testified that he didn’t expect that Rex would lose her job when the City Council voted on June 15, 2015, to eliminate the current deputy system. He said that the reorganization of the system, as he understood it, would have allowed the current deputies to serve as part of a pool working for all council members. However he did say that the current system, in which one staffer keeps the council members’ schedules, another staffer researches and writes legislative proposals for them and other support is offered from staffers reporting to the city manager, is working.

““There’s some additional fine tuning that needs to happen,” D’Amico said. “…. But that’s like any organization…. Ultimately I find that all of the frustration and all of the comments about the quality of the deputies work have disappeared because we have no deputies. Right now we have a support staff that does its work very well.”

D’Amico, while stressing his friendship with Duran, also criticized him during his testimony. “Councilmember Duran is complicated,” D’Amico said. “He is boisterous and often not as thoughtful as I’d like to think I am. So John says things that are inappropriate.” D’Amico said, however, that he had “never heard John say anything of a sexual nature to Ian Owens.”

D’Amico said that Duran often commented to him on his sex life and that he was open about that with him and others on a frequent basis. He acknowledged that he had told Steve Rodig, who the city hired to investigate allegations that Owens had monitored Solomon, that “sex is part of who John Duran is.”

Duran defended his openness about his sex life, saying that West Hollywood’s history was one of sexual liberty, whether on the Sunset Strip or Boystown, the gay nightlife district. “Sexual discussions that happen in West Hollywood you’re not going to see in West Covina, but it’s pretty common in West Hollywood,” he said.

Rex was called as a witness near the end of today’s trial session. Under questioning from her lawyer, Mark Quigley, Rex said that John Duran has made inappropriate sexual remarks to Ian Owens in front of her. “John Duran is a very sexually motivated person, very sexually charged,” she said. “It always made me uncomfortable, but more uncomfortable when it was directed at Ian Owens.”

She said that Duran, who she described as a friend, would show her photos of nude men “with their heads cut off” on Grindr, the gay hookup app. She said she talked to D’Amico on occasion about that but never reported it to the city’s human resources officers.

“Why?” Quigley asked. “Because I believe Ian Owens would be fired if I did that,” Rex said. And why did she believe that? Quigley asked. “Because Ian Owens was fired when he did that,” Rex said.

The trial will resume on Monday with more questioning of Rex. It is expected to last at least until Thursday of next week.

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ferragosto1
4 years ago

Dear Observer: See updated comment: Re: Duran and the Owens/Rex lawsuits, (as submitted to WehoVille, 5/20/17: Sexual liberation does not equal sexual predation. And even though I would have, according to the law, reached the same jury verdict in this case — allowing that a municipality may change institutional systems for justifiably proven reasons of economy and efficiency regardless of other related factors — we all know that the deputy system was abolished precisely due to the effects of the Duran/Owens scandal, for which Duran should have not run again and should now resign, as should his defenders on the… Read more »

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
4 years ago

Wrong thread Roy, but I have toured the Plummer Park buildings. The Great Hall IMO is not so great, and its preservation and the objections to replacing it led to the loss of millions of state money for a much needed renovation and thus a great loss to the city and particularly the east side. Reasonable people can disagree about this, but I learned to question a lot of judgment from local preservationist when they tried to claim a special nature to the Great Hall. And I am a big backer of reasonable preservation. Tara I have seen briefly from… Read more »

Roy Oldenkamp
Roy Oldenkamp
4 years ago

@chrissanger please come on an historic walk with the WHPA, and we’ll show you the value of Fiesta Hall and Long Hall/Great Hall, our great WPA buildings in Plummer Park. Also, our Golden Age of Hollywood Tour covers Tara and its remarkable history…as it sits forlorn by a seemingly uncaring “Creative City.” We’re happy to share some history with you and all Wehoans and visitors.

Observer
Observer
4 years ago

@ ferragosto1: So you would rather invite chaos than have facts distinguished from fiction and properly adjudicated? Unless you know every detail and would be the ultimate decider, that would not be wise. Equally unwise to opportunistically portray our able city clerk as an example of minority put down. There are opinions and there are facts. Yes, I have given an opinion, hopefully based on fairmindedness which is something we all presumably desire.

George Hirst
George Hirst
4 years ago

Duran is wrong on so many levels. Sexual talk in the work space is very low class. Showing naked men….. A person deserves a certain level of respect at work. Do that nonsense in your private life. I would have reported him to human resources. How that perv continues to be a member of WH city counsel is a disgrace! He should be fired. Shameful!

cocoliso1036
4 years ago

I have been to one city council meeting in the 25 years that I have lived in West Hollywood. on the agenda was to get neighborhood feedback on the proposed Laurel Hardware restaurant. One by one, my neighbors and I got up and emotionally stated facts about the shortage of parking, the late night noise, etc. As each one of us spoke, John Duran did not look up from his phone once and more than a few times, actually broke into a laugh about something he was reading on his phone. he showed exactly what he thought of the people… Read more »

ferragosto1
4 years ago

West Hollywood City Councillors, How can you possibly hold a swearing-in/transfer of authority Monday evening under this cloud of malfeasance? And then a celebratory reception? Have you taken leave of your senses? If even one of you had an ounce of propriety you would resign from the Council the minute Heilman and Duran advance to their new posts. And you people complain about Trump? You are just as self serving and corrupt and I see no difference between his style and yours. Please, with your arrogance, do not tempt me and others to disrupt your sham ceremony and reception. Better… Read more »

Mark
Mark
4 years ago

What do you expect when you hire someone completely unqualified based on having sex with them from a hook up on Grinder? This is just embarrassing that we are even witnessing this. If someone can’t grow up they shouldn’t be an elected official making grown up decisions for all of the residents of West Hollywood. What is with the blow by blow reporting by some of the commenters? Please get a life.

Shawn Thompson
4 years ago

Mr Duran could of done the honorable and ethical thing way back when and stepped down, for the HR mess of a ball he set it motion. But we continue to have our city’s name dragged through the mud and a bright light shined on a gay elected official that dances on the line it’s a gay thing., or about sexual liberation in our city’s culture In the private sector he would of been terminated. And weho-wille did a great spin coining the term “Deputy-gate” and is the second force that spun this ball faster and faster, and no we… Read more »

Observer
Observer
4 years ago

@ Tyrone: D’Amico was used in a plot to overthrow the palace. Ask Steve Martin who might know a thing or two about it.

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
4 years ago

David – Heilman received the equivalent of 52 per cent of the vote, a majority not a plurality. The #s presented don’t take into account that people got up to two votes in the race so you need to double what they show to give the actual result. And both Heilman and Duran got more than a third more votes than the next two. Had there been only four candidates they of course each would have gotten some of the votes for the remaining candidates, or the total vote might have been lower making a higher % possible. This nonsense… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
4 years ago

It is interesting to compare Duran’s testimony today compared to several statements he made to the press, including the LA Times, praising Ian Owen’s performance as a deputy. The City’s apparent concern that the Council deputies were “conspiring” to depose the City Manager seems odd given that the Deputies don’t have a vote on hiring and firing; but is does bespeak of the paranoia and dysfunction on the third floor. If anything that only reinforces the charge the the deputies were eliminated as a form of retaliation and warning not to challenge the status quo.

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