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Anti-Afriat law comes before WeHo council
By WeHo News staff, West Hollywood, California
Just when you thought the politicking was at an end, along comes a swipe at the city’s premier consultant and campaign manager and one of the city’s Transportation Commissioners for their roles in the 2013 West Hollywood election.
John Heilman, a 29-year veteran of the West Hollywood city council, will introduce a bill on Monday night prohibiting lobbyists from serving as campaign consultants for candidates running for office in the City. The ordinance will also prohibit the appointment of campaign consultants and lobbyists to any board or commission or any position in the City requiring the filing of a financial disclosure form.
Steve Afriat has been deeply involved in West Hollywood both politically and as a land use consultant since before cityhood.
The staff report, written by Mr. Heilman and his deputy Fran Solomon, says that because a developer’s consultant can simultaneously represent a developer and a candidate for office, the lobbyist can help get a candidate elected to the city council and upon the candidate's election or re-election, immediately lobby the councilmember on behalf of a developer client.
The report states that this “creates an appearance of impropriety that is inimical to best ethical practices.”
In addition, Mr. Heilman wants to ban lobbyists for business entities from serving on commissions, boards and “other city positions.” The staff report states that “is understandable that board and commission members may have occasional conflicts of interest due to their work,” but wants to cease the practice of people serving the city if they are “regularly employed” to represent the “interests of others before the city.”
Immediate reaction to the item was mixed. At first glance, the item appears to be aimed directly at Steve Afriat, who is a government affairs/land use consultant extremely active in West Hollywood and has also played a large role in West Hollywood politics since incorporation. He ran the campaigns of Jeffrey Prang and John Duran in the last campaign, and those seeking to unseat Mr. Duran and term limits proponents made much of his wearing the two hats.
Mr. Afriat told WeHo News, “”I think it’s a reaction to the aggressive tone of the incumbents’ opponents in the last campaign.” That campaign, less than two weeks over, featured claims by challengers and term limits proponents that a consultant and a lobbyist wield tremendous influence over the developers and candidates for whom they work.
Scott Schmidt sits on the city's Transportation Commission, and this measure could prohibit him from doing his day job as a political consultant or ban him from serving the city as a commissioner.
Glen Charydczak, another Martin campaign supporter, had this to say on the Yes on Measure C Facebook page, “When The Campaign Manager for Prang and Duran is a Lobbyist for The MTA Proposal, and for The Pacific Design Center, and when [four] out of [five] Councilmembers are Clients of that Lobbyist, and that Lobbyist gets his money from The Developer, The Cohen Brothers, who in turn gets their money from The Bank, that's Fascism.”
Mr. Afriat told WeHo News that Mr. Heilman has raised the issue before, saying, “It’s not completely out of left field.” However, he said he was not happy about the timing as it “empowers people who just had an angry and bitter approach to the whole campaign, and it unintentionally pays homage to them.”
He and others also noted that the step seemed like a “solution in search of a problem.” Mayor Jeffery Prang used the same phrase in a conversation with WeHo News, saying, “There’s never been any allegations of wrongdoing or illegal activity because of [Mr. Afriat’s] activities, so I have to wonder why it’s coming forward now. I think it’s important to note that in my relationship with my campaign consultant I pay a fair market rate for his services. In a lot of ways, it seems to be a solution in search of a problem.”
A challenger in the past election, Sam Borelli, felt that the bill was piecemeal and not well thought out. “To create a more open process and level playing field there should be a comprehensive review, perhaps by an open panel, of the city's campaign policies rather than piece-by-piece changes. That there is already another separate proposed campaign regulation change on this same agenda shows that this important issue should be reviewed in a broad and productive way.”
Former city council deputy to Sal Guarriello Donna Saur told WeHo News that it seemed to her to be another one of John Heilman’s periodic - and well known to insiders - fits of spite. “He’s angry at Steve Afriat. His office can be angry at people and really try to screw them over,” she said.
She spoke about the relationship that her former boss, Mr. Guarriello, had with Mr. Afriat, saying, “If Sal didn’t like a development he voted no on it. It didn’t matter if Steve ran his campaign.” Asked if he ever voted against his better judgment because Mr. Afriat was the consultant, she said, "Sal? No. He voted his mind."
Mr. Afriat chimed in with, “There were several votes cast by Sal against my projects; but I am not one to bring projects that are bad for the city – most of mine get approved,” remind residents that any development is subject to many layers of approval and adjustment, and finally three votes at council.
John Heilman used Mr. Afriat as a fundraiser "for years," said the consultant whom Mr. Heilmam is attempting to ban from wearing two hats in the city.
Another seeming target of the measure, the campaign manager for the abovementioned term limits campaign Scott Schmidt, note the bill’s timing. “It’s curious that Councilman Heilman only brings this issue up after the election and months after the issue was first raised. However, this proposal as it stands is far from the solution,” he said.
Mr. Schmidt, who operates a consulting business here in the city and also sits on the Transportation Commission, would fall under the second ban – he would be forced to give up serving the city. He told WeHo News, “Heilman's proposal is vague and needs to be scrutinized--what constitutes a "campaign consultant"? Does this apply to anyone who works on any campaign in the City, just to those who work on city council races or just to those who work on winning city council campaigns? Could a "campaign consultant" donate their services to evade the prohibition?
Another term limits activist, Larry Block, also noted the timing, saying, “Unusual timing, so [Mr.] Heilman sat around all during the election allowing the injustice to take place and decided to speak up after the election? Campaign reform is needed but it sounds like he knew it before the election and opted to not ruffle any feathers. The big question is do [Mr.] Prang and [Mr.] Duran actually agree?”
Term limits spokesperson Lauren Meister, said, “San Francisco, which has an Ethics Commission to deal with these types of issues, created an ordinance several years ago prohibiting lobbying by campaign consultants. So, this is not a new issue or one that is unique to our City, but we've managed to sweep it under the rug for far too long. It's about time this issue is addressed, and I hope that all five Council members support this ordinance.”
Candidate Steve Martin also supported the idea, saying, “This is just a common sense proposal for credible governance. I had proposed a similar ban when I was on City Council but there was virtually no support for it. At that time Steve Afriat was campaign consultant for Jeff Prang and Sal Guarriello. I suppose over time all of people's views evolve and certainly this proposal has merit and John Heilman should be commended for bringing it forward. Better late than never. I suspect that there will not be three votes for passage.”
Term limits proponent Elyse Eisenberg wants to take the measure a step further to ban economic stakeholders from city service altogether. “They should also add that people with business interests in the city who do not actually reside in the city should not be appointed to any boards or commissions. This may not be a part of campaign reform, but it should be instituted if it isn't already.”