DISENFRANCHISED?

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Council suspension of Ridley-Thomas leaves 10th District without a voice, activist says

By 2UrbanGirls

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Calling the 10th Council District “effectively disenfranchised,” a community activist is demanding that the Los Angeles City Council immediately appoint a special administrator to represent the district after the council voted Oct. 20 to suspend Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas from the council.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, issued the call for someone to represent Ridley-Thomas’ district while he fights to “clear his name” after the elected official was indicted last week on federal corruption charges

“The 10th District is now effectively disenfranchised with Thomas’s suspension,” Hutchinson said at a press conference prior to the council’s action. “[Voters] needs are great and it’s crucial that they be fully, actively and aggressively represented on the L.A. City Council pending resolution of Ridley-Thomas’ case.”

Hutchinson said more constituent meetings will be held in the coming days to voice concern about the lack of representation.

Ridley-Thomas later appeared before a federal judge to answer charges outlined in a 20-count indictment issued Oct. 13. He pleaded not guilty to all charges in the indictment.

Earlier in the day, the City Council voted 11-3 to suspend him from all duties as a city councilman.

“I am humbled by the support of my colleagues who did not rush to judgment and disappointed in those who did,” Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “Eleven members of this council have stripped the constituents of the 10th District of their representation, of their voice and of their right to the services that they deserve.

“They have removed from action a member — and his team — who together are among the most productive and effective advocates on the crisis of homelessness. I will continue fighting to clear my name, and I remain confident that such will be the case. But in the interim, the council has disenfranchised the residents of the 10th District.”

Councilmen Mike Bonin, Curren Price, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson cast the dissenting votes to Ridley-Thomas’ suspension.

Ridley-Thomas is charged with conspiring with a former dean at USC to give his son a job and a scholarship in exchange for steering contracts with Los Angeles County Departments of Probation and Mental Health to USC  when Ridley-Thomas was a member of the county Board of Supervisors.

County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger co-authored a motion Oct. 19 calling for an investigation into the contracts relevant to the indictment, including a review of existing county policies and processes by a forensic auditor.

“The motion is about restoring trust,” Solis said. “Transparency and accountability are values that should never be compromised.”

Supervisor Holly Mitchell offered a “friendly amendment” to the motion, expanding the review to cover contracting across all five county districts.

“I think this motion doesn’t go far enough,” Mitchell told her colleagues. “I think we have a bigger issue that should be investigated and addressed.”

Mitchell’s amendment, calls for a review of “all service contracts with a cumulative value above $5 million approved by this board between the years 2015 and 2020.”

Federal prosecutors charge that Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of social work at USC, to provide lucrative contracts with the county in exchange for a job and a full tuition scholarship for his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who abruptly resigned from the state Legislature in 2017 related to sexual harassment allegations.

The indictment lays out an email trail that exposes the quid pro quo with both parties in agreement that Flynn would “open all doors” to expedite Sebastian’s hiring and enrollment, with the elder Ridley-Thomas affirmatively voting in favor of contract extensions while “exerting pressure” on senior level county employees.

Ridley-Thomas allegedly funneled $100,000 from his campaign account to USC that Flynn routed to the United Ways of California, that ultimately ended up at a “think tank” run by Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

The elder Ridley-Thomas called the charges “outrageous” and vowed to “step back” from council meetings and committees prior to the council suspending him.

Some of his council colleagues have publicly voiced their concerns about the charges Ridley-Thomas faces.

Councilman Joe Buscaino has called for his resignation.

“He needs to focus on his future and his family,” said Buscaino, who is running for mayor.

Harris-Dawson called for “greater transparency” about what the City Council is doing.

To see these charges come forward against someone who holds a Ph.D. in social ethics is quite jarring,” he said.

City Council President Nury Martinez authored the motion to suspend Ridley-Thomas from the council, which was seconded by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.

“As acknowledged in the letter sent by Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, the City Council must be able to ‘conduct its business with minimal distractions,’” Martinez’s motion said. “Council members have a full duty to serve this city and their districts and to make decisions on behalf of the people that elected them into office. Any action that erodes public trust or calls into question the integrity of the institution requires the council to act to preserve that trust.”

City Controller Ron Galperin appears to be following the same course of action he did when former Councilman Jose Huizar faced corruption charges in 2019, acting to suspend Ridley-Thomas’ pay and benefits as a councilman.

“The fact that yet another Los Angeles elected official is facing criminal corruption charges is an appalling stain on our democracy,” Galperin, who is running for county supervisor, said in a statement. “No one indicted for public corruption and suspended by the City Council should receive a taxpayer-funded salary.”

Hutchinson wasn’t the only activist asking the council not to suspend Ridley-Thomas.

“There is no need for this motion [to suspend],” said Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope. “Ridley-Thomas has made it clear that he would voluntarily step back from council activities. This situation is different from those of former members and should be treated as such.

Councilmember Ridley-Thomas did not violate his official duties. … It’s critical to the thousands of residents in Council District 10 that there not without representation.”

Ridley-Thomas’ attorney, Michael Proctor, discussed his nearly four decades of serving the community in local and state elected positions, and said his client isn’t a flight risk.

“I have his passport in my possession and [we] are prepared to surrender it,” Proctor said.

Ridley-Thomas appeared virtually for his arraignment Oct. 20 to enter his plea, with prosecutors arguing that the charges show he was “bartering millions of taxpayers dollars for what he wanted.”

Ridley-Thomas was ordered to avoid contact with any persons identified as a witness by phone, email and/or social media, and avoid contact with any known co-defendant expect in the presence of his attorney.

Ridley-Thomas is due back in Judge Dale Fisher’s courtroom Dec. 14.

His co-defendant, Flynn, is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 25.

2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood areas. She can be reached at 2urbangirls@gmail.com.

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