By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — There are indications that the City Council is leaning toward restoring the salary and benefits for suspended 10th District Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Eighth District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson expressed confidence Aug. 17 that support is growing on the City Council to repay the salary and benefits Ridley-Thomas has lost since the City Council suspended him last Oct. 13 after his indictment on federal fraud allegations.
“If I go by what members have said privately, I would say yes, the support is there,” Harris-Dawson told The Wave. “I do not expect any surprises. I’m not concerned that there’s a faction in the council that doesn’t want to see him get his salary restored.”
Ridley-Thomas has lost approximately $190,000 in salary since his suspension. City Controller Ron Galperin immediately took Ridley-Thomas off the payroll when the suspension was announced.
Repeated attempts by Ridley-Thomas to get his salary restored failed, prompting Ridley-Thomas to file a lawsuit two weeks ago against Galperin and the city of Los Angeles. Galperin and City Council President Nury Martinez could not be reached for comment.
Harris-Dawson seconded a motion filed Aug. 9 by Ninth District Councilman Curren Price asking for a report from City Attorney Mike Feuer to clarify if Galperin had legal authority to withhold Ridley-Thomas’ salary. Councilmen Paul Krekorian (2nd District) and Gil Cedillo (1st District) filed a similar motion.
Both motions were assigned to the City Council Rules Committee, which is chaired by Martinez. The rules committee normally meets on Wednesdays, but the Aug. 17 meeting was canceled.
As rules committee chairperson, Harris-Dawson said Martinez has the authority to take the motions “out of committee” and schedule the matter for a full City Council hearing. Items taken out of committee require a 48-hour notice to generate a full hearing. The earliest Ridley-Thomas’ salary can be addressed would be at the next City Council meeting Aug. 23.
“We’re hoping it’s sooner than later,” Price told The Wave. “Something of this importance needs to be resolved quickly. It’s a matter of fairness.”
If the City Council conducts a full hearing regarding Ridley-Thomas on Aug. 23, Harris-Dawson said a resolution could be presented to restore his salary and the members would vote on it during the hearing. If the agenda is already full for Aug. 23, the City Council could vote on the matter in hearings on Aug. 24 or Aug. 26. In either case, Harris-Dawson said the vote would be final and would require no confirmations from other parties.
“It takes more than 10 votes to approve it,” Harris-Dawson said. “Once the council decides on it, it’s done. I would be surprised if the council cannot come to an agreement on how to handle this.”
Galperin and the City Council have faced criticism from residents in and outside of the 10th District for the way Ridley-Thomas’ situation has been handled. Many observers believe the suspension and removal of his salary and benefits was unfair, particularly when the decision was made before the outcome of his trial.
Ridley-Thomas’ trial was scheduled to begin Aug. 9, but has been pushed back to Nov. 15. The trial delay was part of the reason Ridley-Thomas and supporters filed the lawsuit, sensing that any resolution to his salary would not happen until his trial was settled.
Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, former dean of the USC School of Social Work, are facing a 20-count indictment stemming from allegations of Ridley-Thomas funneling Los Angeles County funds to the USC program when he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors
The indictment alleges that Ridley-Thomas donated $100,000 to the USC program in exchange for the admission of his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, into USC’s graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship.
Ridley-Thomas and Flynn have denied the charges, which also include allegations of Ridley-Thomas securing county contracts for services provided by USC’s School of Social Work, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Mental Health.
In a related matter, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff upheld a preliminary injunction Aug. 17 that keeps former Councilman Herb Wesson from representing the 10th District on an interim basis. After hearing arguments on both sides, Beckloff said he would review the matter and make a decision “shortly” on whether to make the injunction permanent and set a court date.
“We expect to hear back from Judge Beckloff in a few days,” said John Sweeney, the attorney representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC), the group opposing Wesson’s appointment. “We’re confident he’s going to rule in our favor.”
The SCLC challenged Wesson’s appointment on the basis he was not eligible to represent the 10th District and the lack of community input in the process to replace Ridley-Thomas.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.