LA POLITICS - Two weeks ago, Councilmember Paul Krekorian introduced a motion co-authored by Councilmember Gil Cedillo seeking an opinion from the city attorney in 30 days regarding the authority of City Controller Ron Galperin to revoke Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas’ (MR-T) salary and benefits.
Krekorian’s unexpected action provides much needed leadership on an issue of growing interest to the Council, especially if a court grants a preliminary injunction barring Herb Wesson from temporarily serving in MR-T's seat. A decision on that case is imminent and a preliminary injunction will signal another legal setback for our lame duck City Attorney Mike Feuer and an equally embarrassing defeat for Council President Martinez.
Essentially, the Krekorian-Cedillo motion questions the authority of the Controller to unilaterally revoke a Councilmember’s compensation, the power to take such action is not written any place in the City Charter, no city ordinance expressly states that such power resides within the City Controller’s office. The Krekorian-Cedillo motion is echoing an argument raised in the court complaint filed by MR-T just days earlier as part of a suit to have his pay restored. The Ridley-Thomas brief argues there is no explicit power granted to the City Controller to withhold a Councilmember’s pay in the City Charter. Galperin “exceeded his authority.” For his part, Krekorian goes further by questioning whether Galperin (or some future Controller) can arbitrarily suspend any City employee’s pay if the employee is “not devoting their time to their duties,” according to a spokesperson for Galperin. Thus, a vague “devotion to duties” standard became the rationale for revoking MR-T’s salary and benefits. From a CD10 voter’s perspective, Galperin’s actions register as mean and vindictive. Galperin decided that “piling on” to the questionable and ongoing actions taken by the Council President to disenfranchise District 10 residents and eviscerate district services for people who live in CD10 during a global pandemic was a good idea, it was just plain cruel. Voters risked our lives to place our votes and the message from this sitting City Council is a clear disregard for not just District 10 voters but all voters - particularly when the potential for a power grab catches their attention.
Politically, the Krekorian action prompted two South L.A. district councilmembers, Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, to address the compensation issue with greater urgency. Last week, Price and Harris-Dawson introduced their own similar motion, calling instead for a city attorney report back in ten days, rather than Krekorian’s 30 days. Their motion and the recent clamor for a rule waiver permitting it to be heard by the full Council underscores that urgency.
Both motions demonstrate growing momentum on the Council to resolve the compensation issue. The ripening of the compensation issue led the Los Angeles Times to editorialize against the decision to revoke Ridley-Thomas’ pay as a denial of due process. Most observers think revocation of MR-T’s pay before his Federal trial, without any evidentiary hearing by the Council was unnecessarily punitive and violated fundamental due process rights. The action followed their discretionary decision to suspend him, effectively placing him on administrative leave, at Council President Martinez’s behest. The decision reflects poorly on her leadership. In one fell swoop she disenfranchised CD10 voters, denied a political adversary the presumption of innocence and tainted the L.A. jury pool by leading a highly publicized rush to judgment by his Council peers. It is true that her motion was silent on the compensation issue, but she did not protest as City Controller Galperin revoked MR-T’s pay and health benefits – all this in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Increasingly, councilmembers recognize the pernicious nature of their suspension in what many initially perceived as a form of administrative leave. However, Galperin’s unilateral decision to withhold MR-T’s pay made the suspension an administrative leave without pay. Under suspension, MR-T is still the duly elected councilmember. As such, the Charter prohibits Ridley-Thomas from earning outside income while serving as CD10’s Councilmember. (A resignation is tantamount to an admission of guilt for alleged crimes to which he has publicly proclaimed his innocence.) Thus, at this very moment he needs resources to fund his criminal defense, MR-T is being denied an income by Galperin and an acquiescent City Council.
The Krekorian motion signaled a willingness to address an issue with implications for the November City Controller’s election that pits veteran politician and Krekorian colleague, Councilmember Paul Koretz, against first time candidate, Kenneth Mejia. The motion provides an opportunity for Koretz, who voted for MR-T’s suspension, to redeem himself with South L.A.’s Black voters whose support he sorely needs against his opponent. (Koretz was a member of the City Council when former Councilmember Richard Alarcon faced indictment for alleged felony offenses a decade ago, however, Alarcon avoided suspension under the same Charter rules.)
The Krekorian motion also identifies the need for broader Charter reform. A growing chorus of CD10 voices have already articulated the need for reform of the suspension and temporary appointment processes. Consumer advocates have issues with the City Attorney’s powers as an outgrowth of the Department of Water and Power rate payer scandal. The role of the Council President in the prolonged absence of the mayor emerged as a significant issue when Mayor Garcetti’s ambassadorship seemed a certainty. The controller’s authority is another highlighted area necessitating charter review.
Martinez’s grasp on the Council presidency is increasingly tenuous. Key Martinez allies, Councilmembers Cedillo and Koretz are departing. Veteran politician Cedillo was defeated in his primary by a relative newcomer. Koretz placed a disappointing second in his bid for higher office as City Controller to a relatively unknown neophyte.
Wesson has been barred from serving on the Council by the court. Should a preliminary injunction be issued, pursuit of a formal trial will render the CD10 seat vacant until at least October. Incumbent Councilmember O’Farrell, Martinez’s President Pro Tempore and brown-noser-in-chief, faces an uphill slog against Hugo Soto-Martinez, having received fewer votes than his challenger in the Primary. And Price, recently re-elected to a third term, goes into his final four years with greater potential for independence.
Krekorian is betting that Martinez will suddenly display the skill to deftly maneuver with the nuance and diplomacy required to survive. Though she only has one gear…. Moreover, she’s receiving principal advice from Wesson’s daughter-in-law. It is CD10’s hope that Councilmembers are looking for new, more capable leadership with the actual ability and motivation to extricate the council from the embarrassing “mess” Martinez’s leadership has created in District 10. Martinez has already gained the ire of the South LA voters she forcefully disenfranchised. Observers increasingly blame her for a political split in the Black community by manipulating her mentor, Herb Wesson, into inserting himself into what had been an unambiguous fight for fairness, voting rights, due process and the presumption of innocence.
The Krekorian motion has unwittingly given Martinez’s South L.A. opponents at least another month to target her duplicity in authoring MR-T’s suspension motion. It formed the basis for the Galperin action. The Krekorian motion is a direct challenge to Martinez’s assertion that she did not intend for MR-T to be denied his compensation although she has done absolutely nothing to reverse that decision.
Who doesn’t believe that Feuer has not already opined and reflected on Galperin’s authority to revoke MR-T’s pay?
Taking such drastic action without counsel from the City Attorney would constitute political malpractice, in his rush to generate a headline, Mr. Galperin must have forgotten that his malicious actions may reflect poorly upon him and likely impact his State Controller race. Galperin lost this bid for State Controller. Decisions have consequences, good, bad or indifferent – an insight many parents wisely impart on their children.
What is Krekorian’s agenda?
Krekorian has given members of the Council who prefer a quick resolution to the compensation issue a new choice, an opportunity to move with greater speed, the possibility to act with good sense and a dose of humanity for a change. Whether this moves the process forward is yet to be seen since neither motion has been referred to committee or received a waiver to be heard by the full council.
Delay does little to expeditiously resolve the MR-T compensation matter, or repair the reputation of a mis-led, strayed LA City Council. A slow committee hearing process on the motion allows the matter to fester, and assuredly bring much more attention to the poor quality of Martinez’s leadership skills and certainly will bring opportunity to those willing to challenge her. The risks to Krekorian and the rest of the Council are the distractions, petty political squabbles and dramatic intrigue that makes governance and genuine problem-solving impossible in the City of Los Angeles. The residents of Los Angeles deserve so much better.
Again, delay does nothing to solve an immediately known problem that is all too easy to fix: boldly assert the Council’s authority to dispose legal disputes, settle the compensation case and resolve the Wesson matter by appointing a CD10 representative that is accountable to CD10 voters using a transparent process. If Krekorian wants to emerge as a leadership alternative to Martinez, he needs to focus on the main event and not the clown shows.
(Bridget Gordon is a resident of Jefferson Park in Council District 10 and a contributor to CityWatch.)