On the day Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned on federal bribery and conspiracy charges, his council colleagues will vote Wednesday on whether to immediately suspend him from office.
The motion to suspend Ridley-Thomas was introduced by Council President Nury Martinez and seconded by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, the council president pro tem. The vote is scheduled as a special meeting at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, amid the council’s regular 10 a.m. meeting.
“The trial on the indictment has yet to take place and a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty; however, a council member who has been charged with public corruption cannot continue to exercise the powers of city office and preserve public trust,” the motion states.
If the councilman is suspended, Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin said he will cut off Ridley-Thomas’ salary payments and benefits.
“No one indicted for public corruption and suspended by the City Council should receive a taxpayer-funded salary,” Galperin said Tuesday.
In June 2020, the City Council suspended Councilman Jose Huizar from office after he was charged with felony racketeering. Less than a week later, Galperin terminated Huizar’s city salary payments.
The City Council doesn’t have the power to remove a council member from office, and Huizar refused to resign, despite calls from Mayor Eric Garcetti and his colleagues to do so. Councilman Kevin de León won a special election in March 2020 to replace Huizar, but he didn’t assume the position until Oct. 15, when the council appointed him to fill the seat that was left vacant by Huizar’s suspension.
Ridley-Thomas told his colleagues on Monday that he will “immediately step back” from participating in council and committee meetings, but he intends to remain in office and resume participating “at the earliest appropriate time.”
“I fully appreciate the importance of the council being able to conduct its business with minimal distractions. With that in mind, and with deep respect for each of you, I write to let you know of my intention to immediately step back from participating in both full council and committee meetings,” Ridley-Thomas wrote in a letter to other council members.
In a statement Friday, Ridley-Thomas said he has “no intention of resigning” his seat and is focused on fighting the charges, which do not relate to his service on the City Council, but pertain to his previous work on the county Board of Supervisors.
“Going forward, I intend to do two things: disprove the allegations leveled at me and continue the work I was elected to do — most importantly, addressing the homeless and housing crisis,” he said.
The 20-count indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court last week alleges that then-Supervisor Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, who prosecutors claim agreed to provide Ridley-Thomas’ son with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship at the university. She also allegedly arranged to funnel a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by his son.
In exchange, the indictment alleges, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including contracts to provide services to the county Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted in favor of a full and independent audit investigation by an independent law firm into alleged misconduct of former member Ridley-Thomas, although he was not named in the official motion, as well as increased transparency and accountability in the contracting process.
“Transparency and accountability are values that cannot be compromised,” Chair Hilda Solis said. “This motion renews our commitment to these principles and further assess our existing process and policy improvements to implement reform if necessary. The allegations are serious and … will be handled with the utmost care and due diligence.”
Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon via Zoom. Flynn’s arraignment was set for Oct. 25.
Attorneys for both have denied any wrongdoing.
The 66-year-old Ridley-Thomas is a giant figure in local politics, previously serving on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then serving in the state Assembly and state Senate before he was elected to the powerful county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2020 when he returned to the City Council.
Councilman Joe Buscaino, who serves on the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, called for Ridley-Thomas to be surrender his council seat. Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who sits on the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, called on Ridley-Thomas to at least step down as chairman of the committee and be stripped of other committee assignments “in the short term.”