10th District gets new caretaker, but no vote

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES – Residents of the 10th City Council District are facing another extended period of no formal representation on the Los Angeles City Council, a situation generating more alarm and frustration in a community that often struggles for adequate resources.

A temporary injunction issued last week removed Herb Wesson from serving as the interim 10th District council member. The City Council has appointed Heather Hutt, Wesson’s chief of staff, as the so-called district caretaker, but she has no voting power and is not allowed to present motions to the City Council.

“How long do we have to put up with being disenfranchised?” asked Gina Fields, chairperson of the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Council in the 10th District. “We can’t get any funding for things. No one is there for us. We just want quality representation from someone who knows our district.”

The injunction granted by Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel left the 10th District without a formal voice on the City Council for the second time in eight months.

Representation for the 10th District became an issue when elected Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended by the City Council last October after his indictment on federal fraud allegations. Five months passed before Wesson was approved to take over for Ridley-Thomas on an interim basis.

A hearing is scheduled in Los Angeles Superior Court on Aug. 16 to determine if the injunction against Wesson, who was appointed by City Council President Nury Martinez, should be extended or lifted.

Based on recent rulings that have favored opponents to Wesson’s interim role, it is unlikely the injunction will be lifted, setting the groundwork for legal proceedings and more time for 10th District residents to be without formal representation in the City Council.

“If proper research and diligence had been done by the City Council before they appointed Wesson, we could have avoided where we are now,” said Diane Robertson, a community activist and Leimert Park resident. “By pausing, they could have taken time to determine if Wesson’s appointment was legal.”

A group of 10th District residents led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC) filed a lawsuit to challenge Wesson’s appointment. The group cited lack of “community input” after Ridley-Thomas’ suspension and the fact that Wesson, who was the 10th District’s council member from 2005-2020, had served his maximum three, four-year terms according to the City Charter.

Wesson, cleared by Strobel in March to officially assume the duties, had voting privileges and was able to present motions during the three months he served in his interim role. Wesson’s voting access was just in time for him to represent the 10th District when the City Council made major budget decisions in March.

Hutt reassured residents that her inability to vote will not have a major impact on critical services and resources in the 10th District.

“The staff of the 10th District is making sure that things continue to run smoothly and efficiently,” Hutt told The Wave. “This situation is very personal for all of us on the staff. We’ll continue to deliver the services the people in our community need.”

A possible option for the City Council to address the 10th District’s representation issue is to consider Hutt for “board-appointed” status, which would give her voting privileges and the ability to present motions. Martinez was unavailable for comment.

Hutt said she would not be opposed to board-appointed status if the City Council decided to implement that role for her.

“I’m happy to fill in any way I can to help serve the district,” said Hutt, who served as state director for Vice President Kamala Harris when Harris was California’s U.S. senator. “I live in the district and have raised my kids in the district. We’re going to keep doing what we can to make CD10 more equitable.”

Strobel’s injunction came a month after California Attorney General Rob Bonta ruled that SCLC could continue its lawsuit against the City Council and further challenge Wesson’s ability to represent the 10th District. News of Hutt’s appointment as caretaker of the district did little to soothe the SCLC and supporters.

“We brought this lawsuit to have a voice in the selection process,” said SCLC attorney John Sweeney. “We still don’t have a voice from the community. There needs to be open dialogue between constituents and the City Council. All it takes is an open hearing.”

The City Council was back in session July 27 after a three-week vacation. It was Hutt’s first session as caretaker. The unsettling thought for residents is having no representation when significant votes come up that could affect the district.

“We’re in a really challenging position,” Robertson said. “It’s really disheartening that we don’t have a voting member.”

Community leaders unfamiliar with Hutt are hoping to schedule a meeting with her to get a better idea of her role and vision while serving as caretaker. Fields said she spoke briefly to Hutt when they attended the opening of the King-Crenshaw Rail Station July 23. Fields said Hutt expressed interest in having a meeting.

“If we’re able to meet with Hutt, hopefully in early August, that would be the first meeting,” Fields said. “The second meeting needs to be with the City Council. We need to find out where things are with our district. Right now, it just seems we’re rudderless without any direction.”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at rayrich55@gmail.com.