A few weeks have passed since giving his impassioned “I am not a crook” speech explaining why elected officials cannot effectively function without access to a city credit card, Councilmember John Duran was again channeling the spirit of Richard Nixon at the recent City Council budget hearing.
Clearly annoyed that 50-plus residents appeared at the June 18 Council meeting to raise concerns about policies contained in the proposed 2012/2013 municipal budget, Duran was dismissive of constituent concerns, labeling most of the comments as “misguided or just wrong.”
What was most offensive about Duran’s attitude was his statement that he really did not need to hear from folks attending City Council meetings. “I hear from the public all year around, every day of the week,” Duran pontificated from the dais. Applying a through-the-looking-glass logic, Duran went on to say it would be unfair to let budget policy be affected “by the 40 people who show up to meetings” which he felt would “completely exclude the opinions of the hundreds of people who could not attend.”
Duran asserted that he represented West Hollywood’s “silent majority,” the 37,000 people whose obvious content with city policies is evidenced by the very fact that they never come to a City Council meeting.
I suppose it would be rude to point out to Councilmember Duran that 37,000 people did not vote for him. But through the magic transformation that occurs upon election, Duran believes he was suddenly endowed with access to the collective wisdom and insights of every person living within the 1.9 miles of his fiefdom. Why doesn’t he just announce, “I am the state!”
Disrespect of public process
Since John “Milhous” Duran apparently has direct access to the opinions of the 37,000 souls of our wonderful city, there is no need for him to be distracted by those pesky people who are so deluded to believe that testifying before city council is a meaningful exercise in municipal democracy.
Anyone who has appeared before the City Council in regard to a proposed development or during the General Plan process would be familiar with the fact that the majority of our City Council have little or no use for public participation in the process of governance. But never has that distain for public participation been articulated in quite such a shockingly candid manner.
Duran was apparently stung by the number of residents who came out to object to the budget item proposing that the City spend a quarter of a million dollars on a feasibility study for a joint City Hall/Sheriff station at the southeast corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards, even though up until now there have been virtually no public discussions about creating a new City Hall.
When members of the public questioned the rationale that we needed a larger City Hall as the City would be adding more employees, Duran said he would not tolerate “attacks on our hard-working city staff.”
Larger bureaucracy needed?
That was a cheap shot by Duran as the public only questioned if a larger bureaucracy was economically sustainable for a small city. No one was attacking city employees, they were just questioning the city’s secretive decision making process.
Indeed, with the city investing millions in a robot-parking structure at our current City Hall, this proposal took even some of the City Council members by surprise. But obviously someone has plans for the Sheriff’s site and the funding request seems to have magically appeared without any discussion as to if this is even a direction the city would want to explore. But anyone familiar with how City Hall operates would be concerned. Once the City has completed a feasibility study, the decision is as good as made and no other alternatives will ever be considered.
Admittedly showing up to City Council meetings is not for everyone. Few have the patience to sit through an hour and a half of self promoting proclamations and narcissistic councilmember comments before any actual business gets done. Most of us have to get to work in the morning and staying until 10:30 or even midnight to address the Council on a public issue is not really an option.
Apparently John Duran has an even better system of governance. He simply holds court along the bars in Boystown every weekend. So if you have a concern about the direction of the city, just traipse on down to Santa Monica after 11 p.m. when the councilmember will be in the best mood to grant you an audience.
To insure you get the honorable councilmember’s attention, it helps if you make sure you’ve been to the gym lately and are wearing a tank top. Being younger than 30 is another big advantage. Ideally you should be a gay man, but just because Duran has made recent public remarks disparaging lesbians does not mean he is a misogynist.
An attack by a councilmember on the public that bothers to show up to City Council meetings is an attack on democracy. Telling people who actually took the time to review the budget and tried to navigate all the jargon and then spent a long evening with the outsized egos sitting on the dais in our new City Council chamber, that their opinions are of no value is not something that fosters confidence in representative democracy. John Duran is clearly telling people that they should not bother to show up. Clearly Duran thinks public hearings are a waste of his precious time. People who randomly talk to the councilmember on the street apparently have more influence.
I know that many of Councilmember Duran’s friends will be upset by what will be characterized as a personal attack on his character. Well, his character as reflected by his arrogant attitude toward the public is an issue. If any of his friends want to comment, they should spend 3 or 4 hours at a city council meeting before they shoot the messenger.
For the record, I have huge respect for John Duran. Twenty odd years ago he and I were both in the trenches in the fight for equal rights. John is a passionate and tireless advocate for the gay community. But being a great gay advocate does not make him a great City Councilmember.
While some may object to comparing Duran to our nefarious 37th president, there are certain commonalities. The Nixon White House felt it was above the law, distrustful of the public, secretive and a more than a bit paranoid. The comparison to the culture of the third floor at West Hollywood City Hall is certainly apt.
Duran’s remarks are simply the latest episode where city officials have expressed disrespect for the public. The General Plan process and the Plummer Park redesign are the most egregious examples of how the city goes out of its way to thwart meaningful public input in formulating important city policies. In past years, the city would have a public study session before the City Council voted on the budget. This allowed for a more informed public debate. For a city that was founded on the notion of creating a model of municipal democracy, we have clearly lost our way.
While John Duran statements about West Hollywood’s silent majority represent an arrogant and condescending attitude toward the role of the public in our local democracy, those statements probably accurately reflect the attitudes of more than one of his council colleagues. But the fact that an elected official would actually tell members of the public that their voices are of no real consequence in influencing his opinion represents a new low in the sad saga of West Hollywood’s fall from grace..