fbpx

To Paul Krekorian Re: Kevin de Leon and the Rule of Law

GELFAND’S WORLD - We disagree when Donald Trump and the mob who follow him insist that they can overturn an election that was lawfully carried out and decided.

No Donald, that's not the way the country is supposed to run. There is a term for the way we govern ourselves that is used in the U.S. Constitution. It's referred to as a republican form of government, and it means that voters choose the people who rule over them. No one person or his mob of followers get to reverse a lawful election merely by their say-so. 

Why then should we allow a similar argument to be advanced regarding our own city government? 

Many of us didn't like it that George W. Bush was elected and reelected, but we accepted the outcome, just as we accepted the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, and Richard Nixon. There are a lot of people on the other side who disliked Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama -- and who would have loathed Hillary Clinton had she been elected to the presidency -- but for the most part, Americans of all stripes support the idea of free elections and the elective authority that comes from those choices. 

So, it bothers me that I have to write this. 

An open letter to Paul Krekorian, the elected president of the Los Angeles City Council: 

A few months ago, a recording was leaked to the press. It contained a private discussion among City Council representatives Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, and Kevin de Leon, who were hosted by a union organizer. We all know the results: the furor over the anti-gay and anti-Black comments, the swift resignations of Nury Martinez and the union organizer, and the continuing anger over the lack of a resignation either from Cedillo or de Leon. Cedillo had already been defeated in his reelection bid, so he is no longer a member of the City Council. That leaves Kevin de Leon as the single member of the original threesome who remains on the Los Angeles City Council. 

We note that the City Council passed a vote calling on de Leon to resign, as did many other people and organizations. I should point out that my neighborhood council passed a similar motion calling for resignations from all three of the City Council members, and I was among those who voted Yes to that motion. It was a fair vote on the part of the City Council and on the part of all the other organizations and their elected representatives including myself. 

But there is another side to this story which needs to be considered, and that is the rights of the voters of Kevin de Leon's district and the rights belonging to Kevin de Leon himself. Just as the rest of us have the right to deplore the comments made in that recording, the voters of the de Leon district have the right to be represented at the City Council, and it is important to recognize that the choice of who holds that seat belongs to the voters and not to the rest of the City Council. Only in rare circumstances (such as a felony indictment) does the remainder of the Council have the moral right to remove someone from voting authority. 

Let me simplify the argument: I have the right to my opinion -- that de Leon should resign -- but I don't have the power or authority to force him to leave. The same holds for the Los Angeles City Council and all the other elected officials who have made similar pronouncements. Kevin de Leon was put in office by the voters and the choice to remove him belongs to them alone. 

Consider this analogy: The congress has the power to remove the President of the United States from office through a defined procedure. The House has to decide by majority vote to impeach, and the Senate has to convict by a two-thirds vote to remove the president from office. 

In the City of Los Angeles, there is a city Charter which defines the power and authority to remove an elected member of the City Council. It requires that a certain number of registered voters from de Leon's district sign a petition to recall him, and then, given that there are sufficient signatures, there will be an election that allows the voters to decide whether Kevin de Leon is to be removed from office. That's the law. 

What the Charter does not say is that any group of people can deny Kevin de Leon his right to participate in the activities of the Los Angeles City Council until such time as he is (or is not) legally removed. Until the recall vote is certified following a recall election, Kevin de Leon has the legal right to attend the meetings of the City Council and to cast his vote. The remainder of the Council do not have to like him or to work with him, but they cannot as a matter of law prevent him from participating in City Council meetings. 

The current situation we have been observing goes counter to these defined rights. Kevin de Leon has been denied his right to participate at the City Council due to the actions of the protesters and -- worse yet -- by the concessions made by the Council to those protesters. In particular, we saw the result from the other day when de Leon attempted to join the City Council at a meeting. The president of the City Council almost immediately adjourned the Council. Apparently (as reported in the news media) three members of the Council then left, and the Council only restarted about 45 minutes later. 

This is not the example to set. 

And it's no way to get the city's business done. 

The Council members and the president of the Council should show some dignity, demand order in the Council chambers, and go about the job of holding their meetings. And that includes meeting in the presence of Kevin de Leon if he chooses to attend. 

But if the Council keeps acting like they have been, it is going to convince people that we hardly need a City Council at all. Or, alternatively, we are going to start seeing problems develop due to the Council's inaction. For example, the City Council agenda of December 13, 2022, includes 33 items ranging from homelessness issues to land use decisions. Will these items be put off or ignored if de Leon shows up to take his seat? Will future City Council meetings all be characterized by 12 or 13 Council members allowing themselves to be intimidated by loud voices? Will they hold a City Council meeting, or will they run away? 

So, let's all remember that the City Council and its elected president are the ones who can decide whether they meet or whether they hide. But they do have to make the decision. 

The public will wonder how the City Council can meet and do its business as long as protestors fill the hall and continue to make noise. This is the wrong question to ask. The state has a law that makes it illegal to disrupt any meeting of a legislative body:

STATE OF CALIFORNIA PENAL CODE SECTION 403 (Amended by Stats. 1994, Ch. 923, Sec. 159. Effective January 1, 1995.) — Every person who, without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character, other than an assembly or meeting referred to in Section 302 of the Penal Code or Section 18340 of the Elections Code, is guilty of a misdemeanor. 

Note: The exceptions provided at the end (sections 302 and 18340) do not negate section 403, but merely define other specific places such as religious assemblies or the actions of electors in other public work that are likewise protected by statute. 

The City Council should post those words, announce to the audience that it will be enforced, give a warning the first time that there is a disruption, and thereafter, in the event of any disruption, either throw people out of the meeting or arrest them. Then the City Council can do its work. 

That doesn't mean that the public should be barred from speaking their minds. That is what public comment is about. Perhaps the City Council members can bend a little and provide adequate time for comments, each and every day they are in session. It might even be possible for Kevin de Leon to hear those comments and take them to heart. 

And here is my advice to the protesters. You've made your point. Become signature gatherers for the recall and obtain those signatures. A concerted effort would gain enough signatures within a couple of weeks, provided that the voters of Kevin de Leon's district are in agreement with you. The recall requires 21,006 signatures from registered voters who live in de Leon's Council district. 

This is the way that is specified by law and could actually remove Kevin de Leon from office. Why not take advantage? 

A few additional thoughts 

Where is the ACLU in protecting the rule of law and calling for the rights of Kevin de Leon to be upheld? There should be no distinction between the results of one lawful election and another 

And then there are the neighborhood council issues of a similar nature. 

I've made a lot of comments in these pages about the failure of the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to respect the rights of the voters in choosing their neighborhood council representatives. The DONE and the City Council continue to attempt to give power to DONE and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners to remove elected neighborhood council representatives in spite of what the voters have said. 

In this context, I would like to call your attention to what a colleague of mine said while watching the news video of the Los Angeles City Council at the moment that Kevin de Leon walked in and the Council descended into disarray: 

"Those are the people who want to force your neighborhood council to take training in how to behave!" 

The remark was followed by a laugh at what has become a municipal clown car. 

Addendum: The head butt and the take down 

The late night news showed an altercation which evidently began as a Christmas party for children that was attended by Kevin de Leon. I suspect that de Leon was there to do what politicians do at Christmas parties, and not to incite violence or start an altercation. We do see a protester who puts himself face to face with de Leon -- close enough to make contact. This by itself should be enough to call it an assault and battery on the part of the protester. We do see de Leon grab the protester and push him away, basically manhandling the protester to where he is pushed down onto a table top. De Leon then appears to push the protester out of the room. 

Had de Leon been the bouncer at a bar, and had the protester been a mean drunk, we would have viewed the actions on de Leon's part as justified and legal. But the protester and his lawyer are using the fight to insult de Leon and pretend that de Leon committed some sort of crime. Let's see what the videos and eyewitness statements tell us before we come to any conclusion. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])