At the signs of City Council dysfunction were literally on parade.
Although there was a float for West Hollywood Commissioners which could have accommodated the City Council, they avoided the opportunity to present a show of municipal unity. Apparently the idea of spending an hour together with forced smiles was too much of an imposition for our elected officials.
City Hall observers chuckled as John Heilman and Abbe Land rode in one car while newly elected John D’Amico rode alone. Council member John Duran was able to skip his parade duties as he is the master of ceremonies for the event and does a wonderful job.
Confronted with the prospect of snubbing D’Amico by riding with Heilman and Land and terrified of invoking the wrath of Heilman by riding with D’Amico, Jeff Prang demonstrated his usual aptitude for avoiding leadership by riding with Congressman Adam Schiff.
While the public image of our City leaders is that of a wise and progressive team working for the public good, the reality is quite different. The Council is divided by jealousies and rivalries that seem more appropriate to the late Roman Republic or the last days of the Soviet Union. When Abbe Land refers to the City “family,” visions of the Borgias come to mind.
While the City Council tries to maintain a façade of unity, the snarky comments at Council meetings and recent references to disagreements between “friends” reveals some of the deep seated dysfunctions that are driving the City Manager crazy.
Since John D’Amico’s election last year, veteran Council member John Heilman has refused to speak to him. Apparently Heilman resents and resents the defeat of his puppet Lindsey Horvath. The fact that Heilman finished a distant third in the election certainly didn’t help.
While Heilman will communicate with D’Amico at meetings, he refuses to even acknowledge his presence at City Hall, balking at even those polite greetings that most adults exchange at the work place.
This has created a domino effect whereby Abbe Land limits her contacts with D’Amico in order to show solidarity with Heilman. Furthermore Heilman and Land’s City Council deputies refuse to speak to the deputies of D’Amico or John Duran.
If you watch the Council deputies’ table during a City Council meeting, all you see are five glum looking people who self segregate. Jeff Prang’s deputy, Michael Haibach generally sits between the feuding factions and when he retires he could have an entirely new career as a United Nations peace monitor.
Incredibly, the City Manager’s efforts to instill a sense of professionalism among the deputies, including bringing in a facilitator, have come to naught. But you can’t really expect different standards of behavior for deputies when you have Council members acting like petulant children.
While normally this is the sort of conduct you would expect in middle school, this is not the behavior you would expect of adults, much less from a renowned law school professor.
This dysfunctionality finally came to a head a few months back when Heilman’s deputy Fran Solomon accused John D’Amico of assaulting her. Apparently Fran came out of her third floor office and ran into D’Amico who said, “Hello Fran,” or something similarly innocuous. Fran lost it and started yelling that D’Amico was somehow threatening her.
Apparently Fran first claimed D’Amico assaulted her, but then realized there were witnesses so the story morphed into allegations he was in her face or verbally abusive.
While I believe that these allegations are patently false, apparently Solomon, who is still smarting from , could not figure out a way to back down gracefully. After the City Manager was unable to resolve the incident, an ombudsman has been brought in at taxpayer expense. Of course because this occurred at City Hall, exaggerated rumors of a third-floor smack down were soon telegraphed among municipal insiders.
Even when the late Councilmember Sal Guarreillo launched an unsuccessful recall election against John Heilman in the mid 1990’s, the Council deputies managed to maintain a professional attitude. Sadly the grudges and paranoia of certain elected officials has poisoned the atmosphere at City Hall.
Unfortunately City Management seems to take an attitude that Heilman’s conduct is normal. Historically, it is normal for Heilman. For years he refused to speak with Sal Guarreillo, but then again, that was mutual. Heilman tried it on me a few times, but he never could maintain it for more than a couple of weeks. He learned that he ignored me to his disadvantage.
There are other fault lines dividing the City Council, although none as bad as the Heilman/D’Amico rift. Duran has not forgotten that Prang encouraged Lauren Meister to run against him in the 2009 election or the fact that Prang betrayed him when Prang provided the third vote to appoint Lindsey Horvath to the City Council, sealing Heilman’s three-person majority.
Both Prang and Duran at times appear to be jealous of D’Amico and have often been non-supportive of his proposals based upon the most flimsy logic. Needless to say this dysfunction only empowers John Heilman.
Much of this conduct is based upon the internal pecking order at City Hall, which is a source of never ending jockeying.
Currently most impartial observers would probably say John Heilman retains his position as the premier member of the City Council. John D’Amico would be second based upon his intelligence and being the sole person on the Council who seems capable of going head to head with Heilman in Council debate.
Abbe is clearly third in the pecking order; the fact she does not feel she needs to jockey for position helps. Duran edges out Prang for the fourth position for effectiveness based upon his clear mantle of messiah of Boystown. While I don’t agree with Duran’s pro-development vision for the City, at least he can articulate one.
Prang, largely due to his inability to be decisive, remains at the bottom of the pecking order, the position he held prior to the appointment of Horvath. While some perceive Prang as being a swing vote between factions, his very lack of decisiveness or vision blows that theory. Mere ineffectiveness does not make you a “swing vote.”
Clearly Heilman feels threatened. Due to his longevity, he has come to expect other Council members to defer, indeed kowtow, to him. Heilman believes that proper City Council protocol requires you to acknowledge his superior wisdom and defer to his judgment and he will let you pass an occasional fur ban.
But until D’Amico can put together a credible and coherent majority, Heilman will continue to be the leading voice on City Council. In the meantime our highly paid City Manager has to run a romper room on the third floor.
West Hollywood deserves better.