Some of the major action in last Tuesday’s City Council meeting was marked not by what Councilmembers did, but rather what they chose not to do — including launching an investigation into violations of confidentiality agreements and removing a housing commissioner.
In a 4-3 vote Council decided to call off a proposed investigation into alleged Councilmember violations of the Brown Act and confidentiality agreements.
The investigation was proposed by Councilmember Gleam Davis in response to the leaking of information from closed session discussions regarding the hiring process for the City Manager and City Attorney positions. In one of these instances, the name of Council’s pick for City Manager, Rene Bobadilla, was leaked to the press. Bobadilla subsequently withdrew his acceptance and, in a letter to City Council, cited the leak as one of his reasons for doing so.
After a fractious discussion in a Feb. 10 meeting, City Council narrowly voted 4-3 to pursue an investigation. Staff subsequently issued a Request for Proposals for an independent law firm to conduct the investigation and Interim City Attorney Joe Lawrence recommended engaging with the firm of Foley & Lardner. Lawrence said that in a best case scenario the investigation would cost a little under $100,000.
In a Feb. 22 meeting, Councilmember Lana Negrete cast the deciding no vote killing the proposed investigation, changing her opinion from the Feb. 10 meeting when she voted in its favor. Ultimately, Councilmembers Gleam Davis, Sue Himmelrich and Kristin McCowansupported the investigation, while Councilmembers Oscar de la Torre, Christine Parra, Phil Brock and Lana Negrete opposed it.
Negrete said that she supports transparency, but felt that in this case an investigation would do more harm than good given the current divided and distrustful nature of City Council.
“It’s late and I’m physically nauseous sitting here and the last couple of minutes was like listening to my children fight at the dinner table,” said Negrete. “Oftentimes I feel like I’m a swing vote… I sit in the middle and it’s a lot of pressure and I don’t like it because I feel like I wish we could work together as a team.”
With important work ahead such as the selection of a permanent City Attorney, Negrete said that she didn’t think an investigation would be helpful or serve to bring the Council together.
Councilmember Gleam Davis remained ardent in her support of the investigation and said that it was necessary to maintain integrity on Council and prevent these leaks from continuing to occur. Councilmember Phil Brock strongly rejected the idea of an investigation and said that it was too costly. Brock and Parra both said they felt the investigation was in direct retaliation to a vote taken during a closed session, while Davis and Himmelrich firmly rejected this notion.
A similar divided dynamic played out in a later vote regarding a request to remove Housing Commissioner Leonora Camner. The request was submitted and supported by Councilmembers Brock, Parra and de la Torre and opposed by Councilmembers McCowan, Davis and Negrete. Councilmember Himmelrich recused herself from the discussion, citing an inability to remain unbiased due to her strong feelings over her husband’s removal from the Housing Commission. The request did not include a rationale for removing Commissioner Camner.
“To remove her without any statement of cause, I think is what’s stunning. Nobody has articulated why they want to do this. It’s my understanding that when asked about it by Miss Camner directly, it was ‘well we don’t like your position on housing’,” said Davis.
Councilmember Negrete also opposed removing a commissioner on the basis of a disagreement in beliefs.
“I don’t agree with voting someone off just because we don’t agree with what they have to say, but definitely if and when there’s ever a conflict of interest, I think we have the backing for that,” said Negrete.
During public comment community members raised concerns about Commissioner Camner potentially having a conflict of interest as she is the Executive Director of the pro-housing, nonprofit advocacy organization Abundant Housing LA. Interim City Attorney Joe Lawrenece said that Camner has no known conflict of interest. Camner defended this statement during public comment.
“I am not a lobbyist and my organization Abundant Housing LA is not a lobbying organization. Our funding does not come from developers, real estate or any special interest. Our funding comes from charitable foundations and small dollar individual support. Our mission is to advance housing justice generally, nobody pays me to be on the housing commission and no one pays me to lobby,” said Camner.
Councilmember Brock said that he was representing the viewpoints of many residents who feel like Camner is a lobbyist for affordable housing.
“A lot of residents have contacted me over the last year and keep saying that in their opinion, doesn’t mean their opinion is right, but in their opinion that she’s a lobbyist and they feel she’s lobbying against part of the City, so they think that there are ethical lapses in her advocacy,” said Brock.
Following the 3-3 vote, Camner will not be removed from her position. Her term is set to expire on Jun. 30, 2022, after which point Council must vote on whether to appoint her for a second term if she wishes to continue serving on Housing Commission.