OurWeekly: City Council questions controller Ron Galperin’s illegal suspension of Mark Ridley-Thomas’ salary and benefits
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles City Council unanimously adopted a motion by Councilmembers Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson during the Council’s Friday, October 28 meeting requiring the City Attorney to issue an opinion in ten days about the legality of the City Controller Ron Galperin’s action to withhold salary and benefit payments to Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas following his October 20, 2021 suspension.
Although the motion was introduced back on August 9, weeks after Ridley-Thomas filed suit against Galperin, former Council President Nury Martinez refused to schedule the motion for hearing in the Rules Committee, which she also chaired. The motion languished in her office until Martinez was forced to resign, first as Council President and then from the Council itself, in the wake of racially offensive remarks she made that were disclosed in a recording leaked last month. During the recorded conversation, which notably occurred just days before she moved to suspend Ridley-Thomas, Martinez predicted city officials would revoke Ridley-Thomas’ pay but failed to either prevent it or to provide direction, as leader of the Council and author of the suspension motion, on whether the suspension would be paid.
The City Council’s action to secure a legal opinion from the City Attorney is widely viewed as the first step towards addressing what many civil rights advocates see as a violation of Ridley-Thomas’ fundamental right to due process. It is being hailed as welcome news for Tenth District constituents and community and religious leaders who have been skeptical about the Council’s role in their disenfranchisement, including the South Los Angeles Clergy for Public Accountability.
As further detailed in court filings, Galperin, who at the time was a candidate for State Controller, stated his intention to revoke Ridley-Thomas’ salary and benefits the day before the City Council’s controversial decision to suspend him. The Council moved to suspend Ridley Thomas following a federal indictment alleging bribery and corruption stemming from his service on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors three years earlier.
The suspension motion was taken up as an emergency item and was considered just 24 hours after its introduction. It did not state that Ridley Thomas’s suspension was to be unpaid; in fact, the motion was silent on the issue of compensation.
The Council voted to suspend Ridley Thomas in a closed session, as he was entering his “not guilty” plea, denying him the opportunity to be present when the motion was heard.
When the Council met on Friday to discuss the lawsuit, the first known deliberation of this matter by the full body, that too was in a closed session. No action was reported. The City Council has the authority to settle legal matters at its discretion and it should do so here to avoid the unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer resources to defend an untenable position.
At issue is whether the City Charter gives the Controller power to suspend a Councilmember’s pay. Ridley-Thomas has gone without compensation and benefits for over one year with no legal justification on record, nor any actual findings of fact related to his suspension or precedent to support the Controller’s unilateral action. The Council has also not held any administrative, procedural, or evidentiary committee hearings regarding this issue or provided any direction on compensation. As a result, Ridley Thomas was forced to file a lawsuit in order to get the Council to act.
Ridley-Thomas’ legal counsel, Quinn Emanuel partner Crystal Nix-Hines, issued the following statement after the City Council’s motion:
“The Los Angeles City Council’s motion regarding the unlawful suspension of Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas’ salary and benefits is long overdue. Councilmember Ridley-Thomas has been denied compensation for over a year, while mounting his legal defense and waiting for his day in court to prove his innocence on federal charges. Controller Ron Galperin’s actions were politically motivated and exceeded his statutory authority as City Controller.
“The denial of Councilmber Ridley Thomas’s fundamental right to due process must be rectified immediately. He must not only be made whole for the salary and benefits he was unlawfully denied but also for legal fees associated with trying to rectify the Controller’s improper action.
Reverend Norman S. Johnson, convener for the South Los Angeles Clergy for Public Accountability, added in his letter to the new Council President, Paul Krekorian, “the Council’s unanimous vote on Friday in support of the motion [to discuss the legality of the Controller’s action] was just the first step. We are hopeful the Council will exercise its authority to dispose of litigation to expeditiously resolve the compensation issue on a fair, just and equitable basis. Under your leadership we have renewed faith.”