Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Heather Hutt’s nomination to serve as an interim member of the Los Angeles City Council moved forward in a committee hearing Aug. 31, clearing the way for the council to consider her appointment to represent the 10th District.
The unanimous vote by the council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee came a day after five members of the council — concerned by the process of the nomination — blocked consideration of Hutt’s appointment, forcing the matter to the committee.
The committee was chaired by Council President Nury Martinez, who nominated Hutt, and also included Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Mitch O’Farrell, both of whom supported a hearing for Hutt Aug. 30.
With committee approval, Hutt needs just eight votes to be appointed to the seat when her nomination comes before the council again. Because the committee had previously waived consideration, 10 votes were required for a public hearing Aug. 30. Nine council members voted in favor of the hearing after Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson raised an objection to the item, forcing a vote.
Hutt has been serving as the 10th District’s non-voting caretaker and chief of staff for Herb Wesson. Wesson was appointed interim council member earlier this year to replace indicted Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, but Wesson resigned last week, three days after a judge issued a preliminary injunction barring him from performing any official duties in response to a lawsuit challenging his eligibility.
At the Aug. 31 meeting, committee members received confirmation from the City Attorney’s Office that the council would not be violating the city charter if it were to appoint Hutt. The council cannot delegate the decision to fill a temporary vacancy to another body, according to David Michaelson, chief assistant city attorney.
Martinez acknowledged that a true democratic process would be for Ridley-Thomas to resign and for the district to hold a special election to fill the seat.
“We cannot do that,” Martinez said. “Our hands are legally tied at this time.”
If confirmed by the full council, Hutt would serve through the end of Ridley-Thomas’ term, unless Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or the charges against him are dismissed. Ridley-Thomas’ trial is scheduled for November.
Members of the public who called into the meeting were split on whether the council should appoint Hutt. Supporters cited her qualifications and the immediate need for the 10th District — which has been without voting representation since July 19 — to have a council member, while opponents believed the process of nominating Hutt was rushed and that the city needed to conduct more outreach.
Martinez voiced support for reviewing potential changes to the city charter to improve the process if “God forbid, there are any more indicted members of the City Council.”
The committee also voted to continue an item in committee on eligibility requirements as outlined by the city charter on filling temporary vacancies.
“In case we find ourselves in this very position in the future, we need to outline an actual process and I’d like to take a look at and review any changes to the charter to improve this process,” Martinez said.
“I am humbled by the outpouring support of my colleagues, peers and the council members who had the faith in me to lead and do what is best for this district,” Hutt said. “My hope moving forward is that the council reconsider the needs of the residents of CD10.”
Harris-Dawson said he objected to Hutt’s nomination being considered at the Aug. 30 council meeting because he believed the council was skipping forward in the process. Harris-Dawson said rushing the process to appoint Hutt would do a disservice to her, calling Hutt’s reputation and track record “sterling.”
“When we skip that process … what it does is it calls into question the person who is being appointed and the process,” Harris-Dawson said.
He added that the predicament is unique because Ridley-Thomas could still return to the council if he is acquitted of the federal corruption charges that prompted the council to suspend him last October.
“In that situation, you do all due diligence for the protection of the people in the 10th District, for the protection of Ms. Hutt, and for the protection of the reputation of this council,” Harris-Dawson said.
Harris-Dawson was one of three council members who called Aug 26 called for the council to consider a “full range of available scenarios” on how to proceed with filling the vacant seat.
Councilman Mike Bonin and Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez joined Harris-Dawson in requesting a report on the eligibility requirements for potential appointments the council could make to fill the temporary vacancy in 60 days.
They also asked for a report on the costs and legality of a special election in the 10th District, as well as a process for selecting a voting representative that “includes public input from constituents and civic institutions of the district.”
The motion stated that the council should “thoroughly, transparently and expeditiously explore all options to make sure” District 10 has full representation, including a voting member. The motion asked for a “detailed, public discussion” of the possible scenarios.
“The process of filling the current vacancy must be open, clear, transparent and engage the residents of the district,” Bonin wrote on Twitter.
In a letter to the City Council Aug. 25 obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Wesson said he was grateful to have been appointed to represent the 10th District and argued that residents of the district deserve “a voting voice.”