Complaints against Councilwoman Pam O’Connor filed by a local activist organization have been forwarded to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office for review.
The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City filed a complaint last month against O’Connor alleging violations of the City Charter in connection with the firing of Elizabeth Riel and at least one part of that complaint has been sent to the county.
Riel was offered a position with the City of Santa Monica in 2014, only to have the offer rescinded before her first day of work. Riel sued the city and the case was settled for $710,000.
Court documents related to the lawsuit show that then Mayor Pam O’Connor was upset with Riel’s hiring and that O’Connor sent several emails to then City Manager Rod Gould expressing her distrust and dislike of Riel. Riel was a political supporter of current Mayor Kevin McKeown, had contributed to a mailer critical of O’Connor and written commentaries for the Daily Press also criticizing O’Connor’s positions.
In his deposition, the now retired Gould cited Riel’s past political activity as the reason he withdrew the job offer and said Riel should have been more forthcoming about her past actions during her job interview. However, SMCLC has alleged the decision to fire Riel was prompted by O’Connor’s actions.
According to the city charter “Neither the City Council nor any of its members shall order or request directly or indirectly the appointment of any person to an office or employment or the removal of any person therefrom, by the City Manager, or by any of the department heads in the administrative service of the City.”
City staff confirmed the complaint, first brought to the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office, has been sent to the county. Doing so is standard practice when the City Attorney has a conflict of interest, as would be the case when prosecuting a member of the city council.
This would be the second time a complaint against O’Connor has been sent to the County District Attorney’s office.
The first was an alleged violation of Santa Monica’s anti-corruption law, known as the Oak’s Initiative in 2014. In that case, O’Connor is accused of accepting campaign contributions from individuals that stood to gain financially from decisions made by the council. In that case, District Attorney Jackie Lacey declined to take up the complaint saying her office shouldn’t become the de facto enforcer of the law and cited constitutional concerns over the Oak’s implementation.
In this case, the allegation describes a violation of the City Charter and seeks prosecution under a different section of the law.
In a statement, SMCLC said the City should pursue the complaint even if the County D.A. declines to prosecute.
“On the criminal side, we have informed the City that should the DA decide not to take the case, it will not be acceptable for the City to drop the matter,” they said. “Santa Monica cannot enforce laws against leaf blowers but not against its very highest officials. The criminal complaint must be fully investigated.”
The SMCLC statement also claims “the City will soon be taking steps to hire experienced, independent counsel to conduct an outside investigation into this matter and publicly report his/her findings.”
However, no proposal is listed on current or future city agendas to discuss hiring an independent council and the City Attorney’s office did not return a call by press time.