The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to censure three current and former council members for participating in an inflammatory conversation that contained racial slurs.
The vote appeared to mark the first time the city council censured one of its own members, a move that carries no legal weight but adds to public pressure on council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin De León to resign. Council member Nury Martinez resigned two weeks ago.
Before the vote, police cleared the council chamber of about two dozen protesters who were demanding that the council stop meeting until Cedillo and De León resign. Police issued a dispersal order to clear the room, a tactic typically used to manage street protests, and the protesters eventually walked out.
The dramatic events were another sign of how the year-old audio, which captured the three council members and a high-level union leader in a conversation featuring divisive and disparaging remarks, upset the city Hall.
Under city charter rules passed in 2000, the council can, by a two-thirds vote, pass a resolution of no confidence against members whose actions “constitute a flagrant breach of high standards of personal and professional conduct.” .
City Council President Paul Krekorian said he wants the council to speak with his lawyers to find out if there are any other steps the council can take to sack De León.
The vote of no confidence sends the message that “these comments are unacceptable to us and that we dissociate ourselves from them as a body,” said council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents part of South LA.
“This censorship isn’t just about the offensive words they used, and it’s not just about their attempt to seize power from a protected class,” said council member Bob Blumenfield, who represents part of west of the San Fernando Valley. “It is also about their abdication of their duty as council members to represent all of their constituents.”
For much of the meeting, protesters chanted, clapped and clapped their hands on the wooden benches, saying every council meeting should be halted until both men resigned.
Krekorian has sworn to continue leading council meetings. He pointed out that on Tuesday, amid the roar of protests, the council had scheduled a special election for April 4 to replace Martinez, who represented working-class neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley.
Since Martinez stepped down, his district — which includes Van Nuys, Arleta, Panorama City and Sun Valley — has had a non-voting caretaker.
“If we didn’t meet, the people of the 6th council district would be disenfranchised,” Krekorian said. “A quarter of a million people would be without representation, and that wouldn’t change” until an election was held.
Hamid Khan, an organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, pushed back against that idea, telling the Times that “people have been disenfranchised in this town for hundreds of years.”
“I’m sure there are people who want elections” in the 6th arrondissement, he said. “But there are a lot of people who don’t. There are a lot of people who don’t want to act like nothing is happening right now. »
Almost two hours into the meeting, as the crowd continued to make noise, Krekorian ordered the police to clear the hall. He and his colleagues left the room and a Los Angeles Police Department captain issued a dispersal order, giving the crowd 20 minutes to leave.
The protesters continued to shout for about 45 more minutes, then paraded, chanting, “Who closed it? We closed it!”
Minutes later, the council returned to the chamber and cast their vote of no confidence.
Some of those protesting were part of a coalition that held an information event earlier in the morning to call for the resignation of De León, a group that included Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Union de Vecinos and the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights.
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The city council regulations allow the person subject to the censure request “to make an opening statement and a closing statement, to call witnesses for the defense and to question his accusers”.
Neither De León nor Cedillo, who have not attended a city council meeting for more than two weeks, were present.
Representatives for the two council members did not respond to request for comment Wednesday. However, some in the De León district called the meeting to defend him, saying he should remain in office.
“There was no evidence of gerrymandering, no criminal charges were filed,” said Susana Betancourt, who said she has lived in Boyle Heights for 60 years.
“The public and neighborhood councils need to listen to these recordings to find out who actually said what,” she added.
Pamela Marquez, who is part of Concerned Neighbors of El Sereno, told council members that the groups calling for De León’s resignation don’t know the neighborhood.
“Any action taken for or against Council member De León must be done at the polling booth by the voters of [Council District] 14,” Marquez said.
Earlier Wednesday, an ad hoc committee unanimously approved two motions relating to the censure of council members. At that meeting, council member Paul Koretz asked the city attorney advising the council whether the body could censure a city council member who had already resigned, a reference to Martinez.
“It’s not entirely clear,” City assistant Atty said. Stréfan Fauble.
Cedillo, who lost his re-election bid, is already expected to step down on December 11. De León, if he remains in office, will be eligible for re-election in March 2024.
Speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s vote, Krekorian said the council had done everything to demand “the resignation of our two colleagues”.
“Now it’s up to the people of the 14th arrondissement to really come forward with a recall or remove Mr. De León from office,” he said.
Krekorian also wants the city attorney’s office to tell the council whether it can remove one of its members if that member is absent or has not served.
According to the city charter, a position becomes vacant when the office holder “has been absent from the city without the consent of the council for more than 60 consecutive days.” An office can also become vacant when the incumbent “has ceased to exercise his functions for 90 consecutive days, except in the event of impediment by reason of illness, injury or other reasonable cause”.
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