Our Weekly: Why give the power of incumbency to an unelected appointee’s appointee?
By Bev Rowe
Efforts are currently underway by a small group of CD10 residents to support the appointment of Heather Hutt as CD10’s temporary representative on the LA City Council. Her appointment would be a mistake.
Without opening the appointment selection process up to the broad consultation and transparent deliberation CD10 voters and stakeholders have demanded since February, consideration by the council will continue to signal profound disrespect for residents of the district. Furthermore, her appointment could easily be challenged in court as the appointee of an illegal appointee.
Hutt, after all, was appointed chief of staff by the unelected, temporary appointee for CD10, Herb Wesson. Wesson’s eligibility to serve in this capacity was immediately challenged in court. The SCLC-SC and CD10 voters, their lawyers (one a renown criminal defense lawyer and one an Obama-appointed ambassador to UNESCO), two temporary restraining orders, one preliminary injunction, two judges and the California Attorney General hold the view that Wesson’s appointment probably violated the City Charter.
The court has now barred Wesson from serving on the Council pending an October trial that could lead to a permanent injunction.
Hutt has been designated CD10’s non-voting caretaker by Council President Nury Martinez. Martinez orchestrated the original CD10 vacancy by suspending the duly elected Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas (MR-T) and Wesson’s appointment in violation of the City Charter. MR-T was indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges and has pleaded not guilty to the charges that stemmed from his service while on the Board of Supervisors.
Wesson has already done irreparable harm to the district by engaging in nullifying actions that contribute to the on-going disenfranchisement of CD10 voters. When they elected MR-T in November 2020, CD10 voters voted for a vision of the district articulated in a campaign that emphasized humane, common sense approaches to the homelessness crisis that disproportionately impacts African-Americans and other people of color. They voted for an agenda that prioritized equity in resource allocation, pragmatic problem solving and police accountability and a candidate who championed diversity, civic engagement and community empowerment.
A Hutt appointment would continue the damage done and most assuredly be subject to a legal challenge in court as the fruit of a poisoned tree.
Wesson’s controversial appointment was made with little transparency. It was characterized by minimal and selective input from constituents. No confirmation hearing was conducted. Constituents never knew what his priorities were or how he would steward the district resources in his temporary, interim capacity. CD10’s elected council member was never consulted. The LA Times characterized the appointment as a backroom deal.
In the four months Wesson served as temporary appointee, his most noteworthy accomplishment was dismantling MR-T’s staff. Immediately following his appointment, he terminated both the original “caretaker” (MR-T’s chief of staff) and deputy chief of staff without meeting with them to discuss the status of the office, budget priorities, discretionary spending commitments, or personnel matters — just one hour before a scheduled staff meeting.
Touted as being able to “hit the ground running,” there were no noteworthy motions introduced and little, if any, progress on significant land use or economic development initiatives during his tenure. As chairman of the council’s Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights and Equity committee, he convened no hearings or meetings of consequence.
Several of his public appearances in the district and on the CD10 website celebrate MR-T initiatives. Council colleagues discounted his presence, reluctant to have their work tainted by the specter of illegitimacy associated with his tenure.
How would Hutt’s tenure be any different?
Ironically, Wesson’s appointment was initially defended by the city in court filings by invoking the same term limit provision SCLC-SC was seeking to enforce. The City claimed that because Wesson had already served three terms, he would be unable to run for re-election. Consequently, his appointment by the city council would not convey the potential power of incumbency to a temporary appointee should MR-T be deemed ineligible to serve out the remainder of his term.
It would appear hypocritical for the Council to now seriously consider Hutt without imposing a condition on her appointment that makes her ineligible to run for the seat were she to be appointed to it in a “temporary” capacity. Hutt appointment advocates may be attempting to give her a head start in the 2024 council election, wittingly or not.
So, why should CD10 constituents accept the appointment of a potentially illegal temporary appointee’s appointee? How much further will the city council stray from the ideals of representative government and democratic values? Will the city risk more litigation in an effort to appoint someone more accountable to Martinez than CD10?
The “Framework for Accountable and Transparent Representation” provides a credible path forward. It calls for a district-wide notice of a temporary vacancy, publicizing appointee eligibility criteria and at least one confirmation hearing that includes input from CD10 voters.
Those who are demanding that CD10 have a vote on the council should have as much concern about who will represent them when the decision is being made FOR them, instead of BY them. Democracy and representative government are strengthened by the disinfecting rays of sunshine and transparency. CD10 and the city council can use a little of both.
Beverly Rowe is a native of Los Angeles, a second generation resident of the Tenth District and very active in the West Adams community. A proud graduate of LA High, UCLA and Western University. She is a health professional and has worked as a physician assistant since 2003. Beverly is also a member of the Coalition of Small Apartment Owners.