West Hol­ly­wood tosses aide sys­tem

A team of city em­ploy­ees will re­place coun­cil mem­bers’ deputies.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Hai­ley Bran­son-Potts hai­ley.bran­son @latimes.com

The West Hol­ly­wood City Coun­cil has voted to elim­i­nate a con­tro­ver­sial deputy sys­tem that spawned high salaries, po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing and em­bar­rass­ing scan­dals in­volv­ing al­le­ga­tions of of­fice spy­ing and sex­ual mis­con­duct.

The coun­cil voted this week to do away with its cur­rent sys­tem, in which each of the five part-time elected of­fi­cials had his or her own full- time deputy.

The deputies were paid be­tween $99,838 and $137,487, re­ceived full ben­e­fits and even formed their own five-per­son union, the West Hol­ly­wood Coun­cil Deputies Assn., which some­times took po­si­tions on items pend­ing be­fore the City Coun­cil. Sev­eral city of­fi­cials told The Times that on­go­ing feuds among deputies some­times made staff meet­ings dif­fi­cult.

The deputies will be re­placed by a team of city em­ploy­ees, who will pro­vide ser­vices for all of the coun­cil mem­bers — in­clud­ing sched­ul­ing, leg­isla­tive sup­port and con­stituent out­reach — and ul­ti­mately an­swer to the city man­ager.

Crit­ics of the coun­cil dep- uty sys­tem have said the coun­cil aides did not have much di­rect su­per­vi­sion be­cause they an­swered to both the city man­ager and their in­di­vid­ual coun­cil mem­bers, who have other jobs and typ­i­cally are not at City Hall dur­ing the day.

The deputy sys­tem was elim­i­nated Tues­day af­ter the coun­cil voted 4-1 Mon­day to end it.

Be­cause of changes in the coun­cil’s mem­ber­ship this year — in­clud­ing two elec­tions and the step­ping down of long­time Coun­cil­woman Abbe Land — there are only two full-time deputies: Coun­cil­man John Du­ran’s deputy Ian Owens and Coun­cil­man John D’Amico’s deputy Michelle Rex.

Re­form­ing the deputy sys­tem was a ma­jor is­sue in both the city elec­tion in March and a spe­cial elec­tion in June.

The at­mos­phere at City Hall grew toxic in Jan­uary af­ter Owens was sus­pended with pay from his job amid ac­cu­sa­tions that he bugged the of­fice of Fran Solomon, the deputy to Coun­cil­man John Heilman.

Owens sus­pected that Solomon was so­lic­it­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions for her boss, who was run­ning for re­elec­tion, on city time. Owens sent snip­pets from her of­fice tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions to nu­mer­ous email ac­counts in the city, in­clud­ing those of re­porters. He said he went public with his al­le­ga­tions only af­ter be­ing ig­nored by Du­ran, whom Owens said was up­set with him be­cause he had spurned Du­ran’s sex­ual ad­vances.

Owens re­turned to his po­si­tion in March. Last month, Owens sued the city and Du­ran, al­leg­ing he was wrong­fully pun­ished for be­ing a “whis­tle-blower” and that he had been sex­u­ally ha­rassed.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Du­ran and Owens met in April 2012 via Grindr, a smart­phone dat­ing app for gay and bi­sex­ual men. The men had sex the first night they met in per­son, and Du­ran of­fered Owens the coun­cil deputy po­si­tion three months later, the suit states.

In the law­suit, Owens says Du­ran made sex­ual ad­vances or sex­u­ally sug­ges­tive com­ments to­ward him “well over 100 times,” and “on av­er­age, about once or twice a week.”

Du­ran has ac­knowl­edged that he and Owens were sex­u­ally in­ti­mate and that they met through Grindr. He said they be­came good friends and that he hired Owens be­cause hav­ing a de­gree in fi­nance and ex­pe­ri­ence in ho­tel de­vel­op­ment and real es­tate made him well-qual­i­fied for the job.

In an email to The Times last month, Du­ran said the sex­ual ha­rass­ment claim “is meant [to] de­flect at­ten­tion away from [Owens’] own mis­con­duct.”

In a let­ter sent to coun­cil mem­bers last week, at­tor­ney Aanand Gh­ods-Me­htani, speak­ing on be­half of Owens and Rex, said that elim­i­nat­ing the coun­cil deputy sys­tem ap­peared “de­signed to un­law­fully re­tal­i­ate against” Owens and Rex. Both, he said, have made se­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tions against the city.

Ac­cord­ing to the at­tor­ney, Rex has vo­cally sup­ported Owens’ claims that Solomon il­le­gally so­licited cam­paign funds. Rex has claimed, per the at­tor­ney, that when Solomon found out about this sup­port, Solomon called Rex names and spit at her.

The city plans to have an ex­ter­nal hir­ing process, and the new struc­ture will take about six months to im­ple­ment, said city spokes­woman Lisa Bel­santi. The cur­rent deputies have the op­tion to re­main em­ployed with the city for 45 days, she said.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

WEST HOL­LY­WOOD Coun­cil­man John Du­ran is be­ing sued by his deputy, Ian Owens, who says he was sus­pended in re­tal­i­a­tion for be­ing a whis­tle-blower.

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