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Thu, Aug

Theatre Of the Absurd:  Martinez, Wesson, Ridley-Thomas

EASTSIDER -  After ‘suspending’ Mark Ridley-Thomas Thomas when he was indicted for corruption, Council President Nury Martinez unleashed an unprecedented solution.

As a recent Citywatch article noted,

 

“The president of the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday appointed former councilman Herb Wesson to represent the city’s 10th district to replace Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was suspended after being indicted in a federal corruption case.”  

So lets take a closer look at the history of this cast of characters: 

The History

As far back as 2015 (and we could go earlier), let us not forget Wesson’s key role in setting up the DWP for eventual indictments with the General Manager going to jail. Leading ot our City Council to now run the other way   You can read about it here. 

“Herb and the gang ignored the recommendation to establish an independent, professionally staffed Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission that would appoint the General Manager and set rates for our Department of Water and Power. Even Union Bo$$ d’Arcy endorsed this recommendation” 

And not to be left out, Council President Nury Martinez was under her own scrutiny by both the LA Times and yours truly back in the day: 

“As reported by David Zahniser of the Los Angeles Times, federal prosecutors have issued subpoenas to five members of Ms. Martinez’s staff, “asking them to appear before the grand jury to discuss her recent reelection campaign.”   

I, for one, am not surprised by this revelation. 

Earlier this year, I wrote in CityWatch that Ms. Martinez’s staffers collected, over a period of two weekends in November, most of the 1,000-plus signatures she needed to qualify for the March 2015 ballot.  

What I did not mention at the time, due to content and organizational constraints, was the extent to which the councilwoman’s staff participated in the signature gathering process and the Twitter message Ms. Martinez released on November 18, 2014, thanking “Team Nury” for putting her on the ballot.  

With the exception of two, possibly three, staff members, every individual presently working for Ms. Martinez collected voter signatures on the weekends of November 8-9 and November 15-16. A total of 86 nominating petitions were submitted to the City Clerk’s office, 8 of which were submitted by 5 non-staff members. One James Dantona of Simi Valley, presumably Ms. Martinez’s chief of staff, turned in 5 petitions.” 

Also in 2015 Herb Wesson, was packing the PLUM Committee that Jose Huizar later made so (in)famous. 

Now, out of nowhere, an innocent sounding letter from the City’s Chief Legislative Analyst has appeared, captioned “Council Committee Meeting Schedule,” announcing that the President of the Council (Herb) has instructed them to develop the meeting schedule for 2015. 

How innocuous can that be? Well, buried inside -- in an attachment listing the committee assignments -- was the startling news that there are now five members of the PLUM Committee, instead of three, as had been the case for a long, long time. And guess what? Harris-Dawson, Englander, and Fuentes are now joining Mr. Huizar and Mr. Cedillo in the newly expanded group. 

Marqueece Harris-Dawson is from CD8, Mitchell Englander from CD12, and Felipe Fuentes is from CD7. The latter two are in the San Fernando Valley. The first agenda for the new PLUM Committee, that had already been cancelled a couple of times, simply lists the five members for the July 28 meeting as if nothing had really happened. 

I smell a rat! Or, to be more accurate, indications that our pal Herb Wesson is having a “Grip Slip”, and has been jammed into adding two members to his good ‘ol boys club. By the way, if you look at the City Council website for anything about this...good luck. Nothing about any changes to the PLUM Committee.  

For his part, in 2016 Fuentes was busy living up to his name as the Worst Legislator in California. 

“Shortly after my article appeared (and no, I am not so egotistical as to believe it had anything to do with his decision) the Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, Filipe Fuentes, announced he would not be running for re-election in Council District 7. Of course, the real reason that Mr. Fuentes announced his intention had a whole lot to do with the fact that most of his political allies and cronies in the Northeast San Fernando Valley are under investigation by the FBI and Grand Jury. This includes Congressman Tony Cardenas and his staffer Gabriela Marquez, as well as Fuentes staff member Tania Soto, CD 6 Councilmember Nury Martinez and her staffer Jim Dantona -- and last, but not least, Fuentes’ aunt and staffer Yolanda Fuentes Miranda” 

Background for President Martinez Recent Doings

In 2019, CityWatch’s Jack Humphreyville was questioning Nury Martinez’ abilities to run the City Council.

She is succeeding the 68-year-old Herb Wesson, who, after eight years, is stepping down as Council President to concentrate on his race to succeed Mark Ridley-Thomas as a Los Angeles County Supervisor.  [In the game of musical chairs, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, 65, a former member of the City Council, is a candidate to succeed Wesson on the City Council.]  

In her ten-minute acceptance speech, Martinez did not outline her priorities other than her Family First agenda. Rather, Martinez said that she will address the Council on January 14th when she will hopefully outline her goals and plans for the City.  

While Martinez will no doubt have an ambitious agenda, she will have to work overtime to earn the trust and confidence of Angelenos. We have had to endure raids by the FBI, pay-to-play real estate developers who have undue influence at City Hall, increased traffic congestion, lunar cratered streets, higher water and power bills, unfunded pension liabilities, a stream of tax increases, diminished services, and the City’s mismanagement of the homeless epidemic.  

Finally, there's Herb Wesson Again

Finally, I bow down to fellow CityWatch contributor and master of vitriol, Daniel Guss, who in a two-part set of articles said all that need be said about the Wessons.  You can find part 1 here.

“Even his 2005 pursuit to represent City Council’s 10th District is rife with untruthful declarations about whether, when and where he and his family resided at the time.

Back then, establishing residency within the 10th District was an urgent matter for Wesson because he could not raise campaign funds to run to represent it unless and until he proved that he lived within it. With others rushing to replace the suddenly departed Martin Ludlow, Wesson needed to create the illusion of living there except that voter registration records show that neither Wesson, his wife Fabian Wesson nor their four sons lived within the City of LA, let alone the 10th District, at the time.

In fact, they show that from February 1992 through June 2005, Mr. Wesson resided outside of the City of LA, on Roberts Avenue in Culver City. And almost completely overlapping that time, they show that Mrs. Wesson resided from May 1994 through June 2005 on Bedford Avenue, which is also outside of the City of LA.” 

In the second part, Guss goes on to decimate how Herb’s wife, Fabian, scored a gig with the South Coast AQMD worth over 1/4 of a million dollars per year. With no credentials:

“While Mrs. Wesson has held a number of vague “consulting” roles serving political compadres of Mr. Wesson, one of her AQMD predecessors was Anupom “Pom Pom” Ganguli, now an instructor at UCLA, who earned a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the elite Northwestern University, which in 2019 was ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the 12th best chemical engineering school in the world. Mr. Ganguli also has 33 years of experience in environmental and energy fields. 

It seems that Mrs. Wesson may have received this job because the AQMD is led by one Mr. Michael Burke, who is married to former Congresswoman and former County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who was Mr. Wesson’s boss from 1992-97, during which time Mr. Wesson was Brathwaite Burke’s chief-of-staff. 

Given the drastic differences between Mrs. Wesson’s and Mr. Ganguli’s backgrounds and those of others who held the same job, I reached out to the AQMD to determine whether her job, which would be a 63- to 78-mile round-trip commute is of the telecommute variety and made a public records request to determine how many times during her employment so far her employee keycard was used to open locked doors on the sprawling AQMD campus.  

The Takeaway

Since Mark Ridley-Thomas has not yet been convicted of anything, I have cut him some slack.  At the same time, the allegations about USC, as enumerated in a recent Press-Telegram article, are serious:

“Federal prosecutors contend, in part, that Ridley-Thomas directed lucrative county contracts to the USC School of Social Work, in exchange for Ridley-Thomas’ son receiving graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship at the university. Ridley-Thomas, who now serves on the Los Angeles City Council but has been suspended from his duties while the criminal case is pending, has denied any wrongdoing” 

It is serious enough that the LA County Board of Supervisors has hired an outside firm to audit the County’s major service contracts. 

I think you can see why this article’s name calls the whole thing the Theater of the Absurd. All these ‘public servants’ actions are clear reason why regular Angelenos have nothing but suspicion and disgust with too many of our elected officials. And they’re absolutely right 

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)