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John D'Amico taking the oath of office in 2011 alongside Abbe Land and John Heilman. Photo by Richard Settle.
While that disagreement with himself might have been enough to expose him to charges of political motivation, when John D’Amico made it public that his deputy has been the target of hostilities and harassment by Mr. Heilman’s’ office, the matter took on another light altogether.
Council member John D’Amico reacted angrily to the proposal, seeing it as retaliation for his call to oust Mr. Heilman from the council by also harassing his deputy, Michelle Rex. “I’d… like to thank council member John Heilman for bringing this forward because it brings to the public another example of the hostility from Fran Solomon and John Heilman toward [my deputy] Michelle Rex. I think it’s now documented, and the long hours of conversation that I have had with the city manager and the city attorney about that hostility, we can all see it clearly written down.”
Insiders close to the action in city hall, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation from Mr. Heilman, Ms. Solomon and the City Manager, Paul Arevalo, told WeHo News that Ms. Rex has been “ostracized from the rest of the staff, totally isolated. Every time she makes a friend or ally, they get promoted or transferred so they can have nothing to do with her. They are making her the ‘problem’ and nobody thinks it’s worth their job to defend her or act against upper management’s wishes.”
WeHo News has reported on Ms. Solomon’s repeated meltdowns, not only screaming and yelling at Mr. D’Amico himself, but also shouting at and berating Ms. Rex. Another insider today confirmed that Ms. Solomon had screamed at Mr. D’Amico twice in the City Hall corridors and a human resources investigation had taken place. That investigation, however, dragged on for over nine months before Mr. D’Amico’s office was told that, while they had confirmed her ugly behavior and asked her to act with appropriate respect in the workplace, the department decided in January that there would be no other action taken.
Mr. Arevalo did not reply to a request for comment.
When the council member discussion resumed, John Duran said that these pieces of political reform legislation “often sound good in theory, then there’s the practical reality of what actually exists.” He acknowledged using Michelle Rex before Steve Afriat, although he has known him for over 20 years, since before his election to council and has voted against Afriat-shepherded projects “at least four separate times… because, as a grownup, I listen to both sides present their case and I always decide based on what I think is best or right for the city.”
Noting that and several other lobbyists and friends against whom he has cast votes, he asserted that he saw no correlation between consulting, money and council members’ votes - “it is just not a true comparison.” He then stood up for Scott Schmidt, Michelle Rex, “some of the paid staff people who worked on my campaign from serving on [city] boards and commissions; in essence, it tries to take the politics out of policy making,” he said. “Politics is part of policy making.”
Recalling other council actions to reform campaign rules to effect change in public perceptions about elections, Abbe Land agreed with all of Mr. Duran’s points, but added that she felt the proposal was a “good thing… because there was so much conversation I the election about the appearance of the influence, I think we really have to take a look at that. Though I totally know that the influence is not true…” it is important for the council to act on this ordinance to set the electorate’s mind at ease about the appearances.
John Heilman and his deputy Fran Solomon have a reputation among city insiders for retribution.
According to Mayor Jeffrey Prang, the reforming of the city’s election code was not something about which he afraid to enter into a discussion. He would add several other items to any comprehensive reform, however, including limiting absentee ballots’ destination to the city clerk to remove the possibility of “lost” ballots returned to a campaign headquarters and another look at officeholder account activity unrelated to elections. To make that happen, he suggested forming an ad hoc subcommittee to address the wide panoply of reforms to come back to council “with a more thoughtful recommendation to consider everything that has been proposed” in six months.
Later in his comments, however, after reiterating that the measure was not directed at any one individual and saying that neither Mr. Prang nor Mr. Duran had breached ethical standards, Mr. Heilman said that their hiring Mr. Afriat to run their campaign was not “the best ethical conduct regarding running political campaigns. This is really designed to increase the public perception that the way we run our business is in a highly ethical manner.”
That statement again raised Mr. D’Amico’s hackles. He responded by saying, “In this document, there is an employee that is targeted by council member Heilman. There is only one employee in this organization [who would be subject to this ordinance]. I object strongly to that sort of targeting by his office. Michelle Rex is a qualified individual who works hard every day. His office is targeting that employee and we need to extract that language from this document.”
To which Mr. Heilman, belying his assertion that the ordinance he pushed was based in perception and reinforcing the idea that it is, indeed, aimed at certain individuals – John D‘Amico and his deputy in particular - inquired, “Do you think it’s OK for someone to both work as a city employee and simultaneously be a campaign consultant? I have no question with Michelle’s qualifications; I don’t have a problem with anyone who has previously run a campaign being hired as a city employee. But I don’t think that somebody should both be a city employee and be a campaign consultant simultaneously. That’s my goal here. Not to get rid of an employee, but to prohibit them from serving in those dual roles...”
See the video here...
Mr. D’Amico shot back, “So the answer to your question is another question. When your office extracts dollars from non-profits in the community, is that an acceptable use of your office’s time?
He challenged Mr. Heilman’s integrity, saying, “I have to say council member Heilman, it doesn’t say ‘simultaneously in the language here, and if there were not two years of hostility from your office towards mine, I would think that your ethics are clear. But there has time after time targeted hostility toward my employee under which the city manager and the city attorney have taken no action and neither have you.”
He then said, “I cannot sit here and believe that you’re all daisies and pineapples - welcome, you’re really great – it’s just if you do it in the future. Now this is a discussion we could have been having off-line for two years, but you refuse to speak to me.”
To which Mr. Heilman had nothing at all to say.
The Mayor called for a vote on the motion he put forward to form a subcommittee and bring the item along with other issues back to council in six months. It passed, with Mr. Heilman, Mr. Prang and Ms. Land voting yeah and Mr. D’Amico and Mr. Duran abstaining.
In a statement made late today, Mr. D'Amico told WeHo News, I think last night needs to be seen in a larger context. For me this has been a meaningful and important two years of positive, incremental change, I think for WeHo too. Now, two elections in a row have brought big change and big ideas and a move toward responsible 21st century governing.
He added, “I look forward to discussing the important issues certain to come up in the next couple years, development, rental housing repair, human services, budget and infrastructure and perhaps election ethics and reform. It would be my hope that the election reform working group that Mayor Prang assembled will shy away from ideas that target individuals and trend towards how we can best represent the public while presenting ourselves.”