JOHN DURAN: Rebooting city government

One of the most memorable speeches ever uttered is Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

If you haven’t read it in a while, it’s worth looking over as a North Star to get our country out of the mess we currently face in the Red/Blue cultural civil war that exists. But there is one paraphrase in the address that has some immediate relevance in West Hollywood: “Of the People, By the People, For the People”.

Our whole point of breaking away from the County of Los Angeles in 1984 and forming our own City was to create our own government to decide how we were going to govern ourselves. We have had many great achievements over the decades that were first in the Nation (and later adopted by other cities) from our rent stabilization/ rent control ordinance, domestic partnership ordinance to medicinal marijuana and cannabis regulation. We figured we knew what would be best for ourselves and didn’t need people from Downtown Los Angeles controlling our lives and making decisions for us.

That has changed recently with the new council. It’s time to reboot our government in 2022/2023 as we prepare for our 40 year anniversary.

There are currently 9 commissions in West Hollywood and 5 advisory boards. The 9 commissions are Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, Business License Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, LGBTQ+ Commission, Planning Commission, Public Facilities Commission, Public Safety Commission, Rent Stabilization Commission and Transportation Commission.

The 5 Advisory Boards are the Disabilities Advisory Board, Russian Speaking Advisory Board, Senior Advisory Board, Transgender Advisory Board and Women’s Advisory Board. We have 14 boards and commissions which is a LOT of government for a small city of our size. Yet, out of all these bodies – only 2 require West Hollywood residency – the Planning Commission and the Rent Stabilization Commission. All the rest say someone may serve who lives, works, plays or has some other connection to the City.

At one time, it made sense when we were trying to bring in expertise from outside our city borders to help advise council on the creation of groundbreaking policies. But that is no longer the case. The groundbreaking was done. The infrastructure was built.

The need is no longer what it was. But the old system persists. Some of these bodies have become highly dysfunctional battle fields. Members fight over meaningless proposals and menial tasks which are a great waste of staff time and city resources. Recently, the current council decided to elevate the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and make it the LGBTQ+ Commission. Some misguided board members thought being a “commission” rather than a “board” gave them more power or credibility or purpose.

None of that is true. In the early years of the City, we did need a Russian Advisory Board as we were integrating Ukrainian and Russian speaking Jewish community members into our city culture. There were rough spots as we were trying to merge LGBT culture with Eastern European culture – but we got through it.

There was also a reason to create a Women’s Advisory Board to help create new opportunities and conferences for women in West Hollywood. And the same can be said about creating a Transgender Advisory Board as we were creating new relationships with the forgotten T in LGBT. But now – these bodies have all grown wild and stale at the same time. The Russian Speaking community now makes up about 8% of our population rather than 30% of the population because of aging, moving and death.

And the policy agenda of the LGBT community has mostly been implemented in Sacramento and the County of Los Angeles. There are still unresolved needs and issues in West Hollywood – but they mostly have to do with funding existing programs rather than creating any new policy. So, not that I am ever one to stir the pot and create controversy (wink, wink) but here is what I would propose if I return to the council:

1. Residency requirements for all Commissions. You must live in West Hollywood to serve on a Commission. Period. Recently there have been too many policies being forced upon us by residents of Los Angeles, Culver City and other places. Not bad people. It’s just they really do NOT know the ins and outs of our city – at least not like the people who actually live here. Witness the disaster that was Nika Soon-Shiong – the heiress daughter of the publisher of the LA Times. She was appointed to the Public Safety Commission by Lindsey Horvath. She came in with her flow charts and data and feigned “expertise” to tell all of us what SHE thought was best for us and our public safety. When we questioned her data or experience – she became indignant and Lindsey Horvath thought we were “racist” for even raising a question about the process or the information. This runs contrary to the idea of self-governance. We should not allow outsiders to come into our city and attempt to advise, draft, suggest, create any policy for us! That is arguably “FOR” the People. But it most certainly is NOT “OF” the People or “BY” the People of West Hollywood. Some of the recent appointees to Boards and Commissions are outsiders who come from the pet Democratic clubs of some of the current council members. We have boards made up of ambitious political hacks who sincerely believe that THEY know what is best for us. The only way to stop this – is to INSIST that all commissions be made up of WEST HOLLYWOOD RESIDENTS. We can govern ourselves – thank you very much.

2. Dissolve the Advisory Boards. Now, before some of you raise your torches and pitchforks – hear me out. We have created insular silos of city government who are mostly preaching to their own choirs. Russian Advisory Board members only speak to themselves (and in the Russian language). The LGBTQ+ Board (now Commission) gives Rainbow Key Awards that are usually only attended by LGBT community members and their supporters. The Women’s Advisory board special events are largely attended only by women (so the men in town are learning nothing that will change their attitudes or opinions). The Senior Advisory Board holds their meetings in the afternoons since they are all retired – but there are not any non-seniors learning anything about their issues. And so on and so on. Yes. It’s time to blow up all the boards and LGBTQ+ commission and instead create one HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION. Each councilmember could appoint 5 individuals and make it a 25 member commission that meets monthly. There is great synergy that comes from mixing communities of interest. It would be ideal for gay men to learn about the culture and experiences of people who came here from the Ukraine. It would be great if seniors learned about the discrimination or struggle of transgender individuals. It would be awesome if women learned about the battle for accessibility for those living with disabilities. And so on and so on. If we truly want a diverse culture that preaches tolerance, understanding and acceptance of our differences – then one Human Relations Commission that works on producing universal community events where all the rich diversity of West Hollywood mixes together is preferable. Or we can just keep on doing the same old awards each year attended only by the awardees, their families and supporters and the board/commission members who largely live out of town. Nothing is learned. Nothing changes. Nothing grows. Other than the festering of resentments between those board members over who gets to chair this year’s meetings or who is going to speak on the next panel. Sigh. Eye Roll. So small. So narrow. So yesteryear.

Part of the beauty of running as a non incumbent this time, is that I am free to speak my mind without the constraints of the Brown Act or the requirement that I keep an open mind to all ideas as a sitting Councilmember is supposed to do. Whether I get re elected or I do not get elected again – is not really the point in my writing these opinion pieces. The point is that there is great benefit from having years of experience on the council and watching the same dysfunction year after year and thinking “there has to be a better way”.

And then sharing the ideas here in print. Finally, it’s time that the current council and board/commission members STOP acting like staff members. It is not your responsibility to try and bring in outside “experts” who support your political point of view. That is the job of city staff. You give the general direction. Hopefully, an unbiased staff brings in experts with differing points of view and then the board/commission/council can make educated decisions about what is best for all of us in the future.

So, there you go. Residency Requirement. Blow up the old system. Create a Human Relations Commission and allow the others to pass into history. And stay in your own lane. Councilmembers – you are not staff. Board/Commission members – you are not ELECTED representatives by the people – you are APPOINTED to advise or make decisions – but the ultimate call is by those who were elected by the People. And the People are free to vote those councilmembers back in or replace them at election time. That’s how “of the People, by the People and for the People” looks….. OK. Raise pitchforks and torches. Ready. Set. Go. Please discuss.

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About John Duran
John Duran, a criminal defense lawyer, served on the West Hollywood City Council for 20 years, 2001-2020.

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Bill
Bill
1 month ago

John I agree with most of what you said about our boards and commissions, and I am on one of them

Christopher Bowen
Christopher Bowen
1 month ago

Thoughtful!

Tom
Tom
1 month ago

I’ll go further- Residency requirements: all commissioners must be WeHo residents of two years or more to be considered for a post.(if a commission requires a specific tradesperson like an Architect to be on then one member may be considered that works but does not live in WeHo) No direct appointees: All commission posts are open, advertised in local media and seen by an ad-hoc board consisting of 2 sitting commissioners (chair and vice chair) and 2 council people previously appointed as liaisons to that commission. 5 members per commission, tops. Members who miss more than 3 meetings in a… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Tom
Randy
Randy
1 month ago

Most of this sounds like a good idea. However, just a couple things: A 25 member commission board? Imagine the logistics of sitting through a meeting with that large of a body. Does every person get 30 seconds, total, like the recent Council debate? This sounds impractical. And like a cluster***k. I believe these commissions have been overrun by outside interests. But let us also consider your West Hollywood neighbors. How many people are here to work, play, and even own businesses, who cannot afford to live in the city limits? John, I believe that you, along with Horvath, and… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

No one should vote for John Duran until he repays the half a million dollars he cost the taxpayers of WeHo from his sexual harassment case.

Take Responsibility
Take Responsibility
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Why is John Duran completely silent on this issue? It defies credibility that he has not taken any responsibility for his transgressions yet a member of Congress resigned at the mere hint of the possibility.

Randy
Randy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

To be accurate, the insurance company paid out the $500,000. We have yet to hear how much the premiums may have gone up, as a result. But there was damage to the City’s reputation, fodder for conservative news outlets, spewing cliches (“there go those Democrats again!”), we were a national joke, in some circles. And this could all have been avoided. I’m not an attorney, I don’t work in a position of power. But I wouldn’t even think twice, about hiring someone who is my subordinate, without disclosing to the HR department that we had a prior relationship (even if… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago
Reply to  Randy

You’re correct Randy, it cost the insurance company $500k,. I know that’s the reported amount, but I had someone from the City tell me it was actually a million, so who knows the real answer. I’m also friends with a man in the Gay Man’s Choir and he has a lot of stories about John, I can’t confirm them so I won’t repeat, but it is just another reason I won’t be voting for him.

A Nasty Swamp
A Nasty Swamp
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

John Duran this is you your VM opportunity to be straightforward and to cleanse your soul. Unless you are a committed sex addict which is a bigger problem. If an effective member of Congress could resign over allegations of sexual impropriety you are further demeaning your character and the folks you expect will vote for you. It’s a nasty swamp with no redeeming opportunity.

Somewehobish
Somewehobish
1 month ago
Reply to  A Nasty Swamp

He addressed these charges, repeatedly and forthrightly, when they were in the news.

Jordan Cockeram
1 month ago

I absolutely agree with making it a requirement to be a resident of West Hollywood to be on a commission, and I will join you in sponsoring that ordinance when I’m on city council. Before Nika Soon-Shiong was appointed, I thought it WAS a requirement that you had to live in (or own a business in) the city to be on a commission. That’s because historically, council members have respected the city and the people who live here by only appointing residents. Sadly, that’s not the case anymore.

Joke
Joke
1 month ago

Sleeping with John Duran is not a qualification for office. What have you ever done or spoke on?

Integrity
Integrity
1 month ago
Reply to  Joke

Yes, more folks would like to know the story here on both points. It goes to integrity.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
1 month ago

Keep talking, John, and I’ll find some way to vote for you twice! Your reminder of why we in WeHo became our own city because of our uniqueness so we could successfully govern ourselves also applies nationally. Each state was originally intended in our Constitution to be its own laboratory of governance because the federal government couldn’t understand the uniqueness of each state. (In the Constitution it’s called federalism, which is very poorly named because it suggests the opposite of what it means.) But in the arrogance of those in Washington DC way too much of the power is centered… Read more »

Advocate
Advocate
1 month ago

AMEN!! Duran for City Council!!

Michael G Labarbera
Michael G Labarbera
1 month ago

Bravo John!

Dennis B
Dennis B
1 month ago

Apparently, no one has told Abbie Land & John Heilman they are no longer on the City Council nor do they work for the city. They’re both delusional. They’ve always shown a sense of ownership when they were on the council – but it’s over folks. Way past time for us to move on – that includes you two too

Michael Dolan
Michael Dolan
1 month ago
Reply to  Dennis B

John H. has been the strongest leader since West Hollywood’s incorporation. His guidance and career have only been what is the best for West Hollywood. He is successful, and his ability will raise West Hollywood and its residents as the beneficiaries of his hard work and strong ethic.   Years later, when Abbe Land was elected to our city’s Council. John and Abbe became friends NOT partners in crime. Their friendship is not one of questionable value. John’s ethics are stellar.   Abbe remained busy building a network, one of which is to get ‘her’ people nefariously into our city’s… Read more »

Dennis B
Dennis B
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael Dolan

Why does Land have wealthy “donors?” Donors to whom & for what? She’s not in politics anymore. Why would Land want “her chosen ones” on the council? She doesn’t work for the city. She’s a senior citizen, why should she have such an acute interest in “grooming” future city council members. That doesn’t make any sense at all. We need younger, better-qualified council members & commissioners. I think Land’s ship has sailed – I’m told she was dismissed from her last 2 high-paying jobs for underperforming & Shiela Keul handed her her current job. I’m mystified as to how she… Read more »

Larry Block
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Dennis B

you must be a shill.

Leslie Karliss
Leslie Karliss
1 month ago

I like these ideas, but would go one step further on the residency requirement for commissioners with a minimum three or five years residency before one can serve on a commission. This would go far in eliminating the political carpetbaggers.

hifi5000
hifi5000
1 month ago

John Duran have some good ideas to improve West Hollywood’s city commissions and advisory boards.These ideas need to be accepted and implemented sooner rather than later.

I just hope Mr. Duran learned from his mistakes in his past runs as city councilperson.The residents don’t need any more scandals to distract attention from urgent city issues.Mr. Duran is a outgoing and engaging person,but he needs to act more professionally if he rejoins the city council.

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