Last night the West Hollywood city council refused to allow city staff to air on WEHOTV a serious city council candidate forum to be hosted jointly by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, a bedrock of the city’s vitality, and by The League of Women Voters, the most respected and established debate sponsor in the nation, and by a coalition of nine established neighborhood groups representing West Hollywood residents. Refusing access to airing that forum on WEHOTV is an unprecedented abuse of the councilmembers’ offices of public trust. I could smell trouble when the item was pulled from the consent calendar. The unanimous vote, with Lauren Meister doing the right thing by recusing herself due to her status as a candidate for reelection, smacks of official censorship of the most important engagement citizens have in our democracy. This government overreach is an intrusion into the democratic and fair process of informing the public that this forum, and I hope others, is designed to do.
An office of public trust is sacred space that should be held by people who truly want to do the people’s business. In the standing orders of the United States Senate, an office of public trust is described as:
“The ideal concept of public office, expressed by the words, “A public office is a public trust”, signifies that the officer has been entrusted with public power by the people; that the officer holds this power in trust to be used only for their benefit and never for the benefit of himself or of a few; and that the officer must never conduct his own affairs so as to infringe on the public interest. All conduct of Members of the Senate should be guided by this paramount concept of public office.” (Editorial note, quoting verbatim using the limited pronouns found in the published text.)
There is no public interest served by censoring an event that has precedent in this city. In fact, all sitting members of this council have previously participated in Chamber-sponsored candidate forums. To censor this year’s forum is a clear infringement on the public interest.
It is wildly offensive and borderline comedic that John D’Amico suggested that he and Lindsey Horvath could serve as impartial arbiters of vetting questions given that their tenure on council will soon end. They have both endorsed candidates and/or donated to candidates in the November city council election. At least Horvath had the decency to back off the obscene suggestion, perhaps realizing that the proposal was ludicrous. There is zero public interest served in having citizen questions vetted (censored!) by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Was this affront to fair play merely a petty attempt to protect the incumbents’ favored, endorsed, and financially supported candidates from facing legitimate public scrutiny? The election process in West Hollywood has devolved into a debate by misinformation spread through slick campaign mailers that offend the environment and pollute our mailboxes?
West Hollywood deserves better than naïve practitioners of provincial politics. We deserve a robust discussion of important matters, and our own vetting of candidates who are subjected
to legitimate community forums. The action last night to block the city’s resources from being used was a naked power grab by sanctimonious hypocrites who clearly failed basic high school civics. I question even the fundamental premise that the council should be micromanaging the use of city resources such as WEHOTV, particularly for raw political misuse; such management is best left in the hands of city professional staff.
John Erickson long ago declared war on the Chamber of Commerce. This latest skirmish is by far the most egregious and likely well-coordinated attack on the Chamber, and by extension all residents of West Hollywood for whom the chamber promotes economic vitality. His is a vindictive vendetta, one that is well-known throughout West Hollywood.
The insinuation communicated by councilmembers that this forum is not fair and impartial is complete bullpucky and an insult to the Chamber of Commerce, to The League of Women Voters, and to the nine grassroots neighborhood groups that formed a city-wide coalition to develop, produce and promote this important public discussion; a coalition that collectively developed the questions to be asked. It is a coalition of residents of West Hollywood made up of our neighbors and friends in all corners of the city.
This abuse of office and the violation of public trust that it represents notwithstanding, the forum will go on and an increasingly engaged (and enraged!) public will tune in to get real-time responses from candidates for office to help inform them and make decisions on who will best represent the interests of the residents and businesses of West Hollywood for the next two years.
We deserve better than a banana republic. We deserve people who honor their offices of public trust and truly support full civic engagement. Shame on John Erickson, Sepi Shyne, Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico.