A Major Blunder in LA City Hall’s Attempt to Ban Critics

@THE GUSS REPORT-Ah, government incompetence… An ill-conceived Motion signed by Los Angeles City Council president Herb Wesson and several of his colleagues on Friday calls for ejections and progressive punishments against loud, obnoxious City Hall critics.

It is expected to advance to a full City Council vote in the coming days. 

At least, that was the plan before the Motion’s flaws, which are exclusively outlined in this column, are mulled and their consequences considered. 

The first problem is that progressive punishments – banning people for subjective misconduct at meetings from other meetings later the same day, week or month – were at the core of a costly federal 1stAmendment lawsuit that the City of Los Angeles lost a few years ago. It reaffirmed that government critics have the right to be heard first and foremost, regardless of their fieriness. 

The second, potentially devastating, problem is that Wesson’s Motion seeks to ban critics for obnoxious behavior only from City Council meetings and City Council’s Committee meetings. It does not seek to ban critics from a slew of lower-level board, panel and commission meetings held inside and out of LA City Hall each week, many attended by the two people who Wesson’s Motion targets, notorious gadflies Armando Herman and immigration attorney Wayne Spindler. While Wesson disingenuously denies that his Motion targets them or anyone else, a City Council gripe session against the boorish duo, to the exclusion of all other critics, took up 17 minutes of last Wednesday’s meeting. 

“I don’t care if Herb Wesson takes a blowtorch to his Motion,” Spindler said. “This proves his intent is to insulate thin-skinned City Councilmembers from criticism but doesn’t ban our so-called ‘disruptive’ behavior from other meetings they do not attend.” 

Herman says, “We aren’t disruptive at all. They can’t handle being called out for their criminality.”

Spindler adds, “This Motion will be Exhibit 1 in an immediate injunction if the city tries to implement it or a replacement Motion. City Hall’s real intent is permanently captured here. But if our colorful commentaries are suitable for lower-level meetings, then they are suitable for City Council and its Committee meetings.” 

The “lower level” meetings to which Spindler and Herman refer are dozens of other weekly meetings which they and scores of other critics attend, including the LAPD Commission, Board of Public Works, Disability Board, LA Animal Services, Neighborhood Councils, and others. Wesson’s Motion doesn’t seek to ban bad behavior at those meetings, making credible the claim that it aims solely to silence critics at City Council. 

Spindler said he will also add Wesson’s Motion to his other pending legal actions against the City.

Wesson – who gives as good as he gets – is in desperate need of a respite from relentless but valid criticism he has received of late, including a high-profile recall threat he faced from angry Koreatown residents whose voices he attempted to squelch on a homeless encampment issue. 

While antagonism hurled at City Councilmembers during their meetings is nothing new, and certainly not exclusive to Los Angeles, it has increased exponentially during Wesson’s tenure as City Council president commensurate with his making public participation at the meetings increasingly onerous. 

Wesson has done this by cutting down speaking time, moving speaking time from one part of the meeting to others, and by grouping and ungrouping when members of the public may be called to speak during its hours-long meetings. He is known to call critics to speak seconds after he sees them exit council chambers to go to the restroom, without restoring their time upon returning. Wesson and Deputy City Attorney Strefan Fauble are also skilled at disrupting speakers, speaking over their opinions, and not stopping the clock when they do. 

Before an electronic kiosk system was installed at City Council meetings to allow people to sign up to speak, Wesson’s pro tem and equally Napoleonic colleague, Councilmember Mitch Englander, was infamous for “losing” critics’ handwritten speaker cards, declaring people “disruptive” when they asked what happened to their card, then having them ejected under threat of arrest by the LAPD, only to suddenly locate the card after their ejection. 

City Council’s abusiveness toward critics includes frequent targets like CityWatch columnist Eric Preven, who won an LA Press Club Award for excellence last year. And I was targeted when I Tweeted before a City Council meeting that Councilmember Nury Martinez was under federal investigation, a provably truthful statement. 

(Spindler says that he expressed some of these concerns to LA Times reporter Emily Alpert Reyes when she contacted him for comment, but that she left them out of the story she published late Friday with her colleague David Zahniser, who contacted me for information to aide in their story. Their request was denied because of the Times’ habit of failing to properly credit this column for breaking several stories in recent years.) 

While Wesson, Fauble and his boss, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, will undoubtedly dismantle the Motion and attempt to substitute it with a broader one to cover other meetings, Spindler says that the original Motion establishes the City’s true motive and will be used at every turn to defeat the City in court.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Join his mailing list or offer verifiable tips and story ideas at TheGussReport@gmail.com. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.