By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES – Calling his opponents “selfish and shortsighted,” former City Council President Herb Wesson said activists seeking to block his appointment to a vacated City Council seat are only hurting residents of the city’s 10th Council District.
“Government is supposed to be about delivering services for the people,” Wesson told The Wave. “It’s not supposed to be about personalities. The only people losing throughout this ordeal are the people in the 10th. Any district without representation in the City Council is at a major disadvantage.”
Wesson was expected to assume his duties this week after the City Council voted Feb. 23 to install him as a replacement for suspended 10th District Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Wesson’s appointment was delayed a day later on Feb. 24 when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel imposed a temporary restraining order until a March 17 hearing.
Wesson said the opposition to his appointment is “not a good look” for a community that has not had formal representation since Ridley-Thomas was suspended by the City Council on Oct. 20. The City Council voted to suspend Ridley-Thomas a week after he was indicted on charges of federal corruption.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California was joined by several 10th District community leaders in filing their suit aimed to prevent Wesson’s appointment. The group objected to Ridley-Thomas’ suspension without “due process” and the fact that Wesson cannot be a long-term solution for the 10th District.
Wesson is prohibited from a full-time role representing the 10th District after serving the maximum three four-year terms allowed by the City Charter. Wesson, who represented the 10th District from 2005-20, believes his term status should not be an issue.
“From the beginning, I said I would do this temporarily,” Wesson said. “I’m a pinch-hitter, a substitute teacher. The community has a need and I was asked to fill it. Some people are putting their personal desires ahead of the residents of the district.”
Opponents of Wesson’s proposed appointment insist that their intentions aren’t personal and should not be viewed as an attack on Wesson. Attorney John Sweeney, who is representing the group headed by the SCLC, said the lawsuit is more about the legal process and community input.
The lawsuit, filed Feb. 18 in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims residents of the 10th District had no input in the Ridley-Thomas suspension or the decision to install Wesson. The City Council’s legal authority to suspend Ridley-Thomas is also facing scrutiny.
“The ball is in their court now,” Sweeney said of the City Council. “It was our burden to show that there would be irreparable harm if the injunction was not granted, and we did that. They have to show they have a legal right to put Wesson in. We don’t think they can do it.”
The city has to file its response to Judge Strobel’s ruling by March 12. Sweeney and his group must file their response to the City Council arguments by March 14.
Judge Strobel will make a ruling on March 17, but her decision will not include reinstatement for Ridley-Thomas. Sweeney said Judge Strobel informed the group that Ridley-Thomas’ suspension will be upheld until the outcome of his trial, which is scheduled to begin in August.
Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, former dean of the USC School of Social Work, are facing a 20-count indictment stemming from allegations that Ridley-Thomas funneled county funds to the USC program when he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors.
Among the charges are allegations 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 allegations.
Since Ridley-Thomas will not be reinstated at the hearing March 17, the 10th District is facing an extended period without formal representation in the City Council if Wesson’s appointment is denied. Sweeney said the group has a preliminary list of candidates they would like to submit for consideration, but he declined to identify them.
“That’s something we’ll talk more about when that time comes,” Sweeney said.
In the meantime, Wesson said he remains willing to take on the temporary role despite the lawsuit and opposition from certain segments of the 10th District. He said he has no plans to “turn my back” on the community.
“The time is coming soon where some billion-dollar decisions will need to be made,” Wesson said of City Council budget matters. “The process on how the money will be divided among communities is crucial. And right now, nobody is in City Council to make sure the 10th is treated fairly. That’s the real issue for our community.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave Newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.