The Los Angeles City Council is set to consider appointing staff member Heather Hutt as the fill-in 10th District council member at Tuesday’s meeting, and while both city leadership and residents agree that the district needs representation, there is disagreement over whether Hutt’s appointment would be the best approach.
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez filed a motion Friday proposing the appointment of Hutt, who has been serving as the district’s non-voting caretaker and chief of staff for Herb Wesson, who was appointed interim council member to replace indicted Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“The residents of Council District 10 are in this mess through no fault of their own,” Martinez said in a statement Monday to City News Service. “All I have wanted to do is work with the community to give this district representation. I’ve listened each time they’ve come to me with a candidate and this time Heather is who they asked for.”
Wesson resigned Thursday, three days after a judge issued a preliminary injunction barring him from performing any official duties in response to a lawsuit challenging his eligibility. Wesson has already served three terms on the council.
Martinez’s motion, seconded by four council members, touted Hutt’s background as a state director for then-Sen. Kamala Harris and the immediate need for District 10 to have a voting council member. Hutt would serve through the end of Ridley-Thomas’ term, unless Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or the charges against him are dismissed.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the council last October, following his federal indictment on corruption charges.
“I’ve spent my whole life in public service, working on behalf of my neighbors and helping them with their needs,” Hutt said in a statement. “It’s important they have a voice in the horseshoe, but it’s equally important that their day-to- day, way of life needs are met as well.”
Since July 19, the district, which stretches from Koreatown to Leimert Park in South Los Angeles, has not had voting representation on the council because caretakers cannot act as voting members of the council.
If the council were to confirm Hutt’s appointment Tuesday, the district would have a vote. But that decision would have been made by the 14 current members of the council and not the public, which doesn’t sit well with some residents.
“This is not an issue of whether you support or do not support Mark Ridley-Thomas,” said Irma Munoz, a 25-year resident of the district and the president of an environmental nonprofit organization. “This is an issue of democracy.”
Several residents interviewed by City News Service claimed there has been little to no outreach from the city while the district’s representation on the council has been in flux.
Rev. Eddie Anderson, a pastor at McCarty Memorial Christian Church who has lived in the district for three years, said he feels “frustrated and disenfranchised” by the process. Anderson thought that, as a faith institution, the church might hear from the city about the plan for filling the vacant seat.
“I haven’t got one message,” Anderson said.
Robyn Stern, a creative director and seven-year Leimart Park resident, said she is registered for most emails from her local elected officials.
“I was really disappointed by just how little outreach was provided to constituents within CD 10,” Stern said. “It felt like people were nominating or putting names forward without any input from stakeholders.”
Stern, who voted for Hutt in her unsuccessful bid for Assembly last year, said the issue was not about Hutt’s qualifications.
“That doesn’t mean that I’m OK with the process by which her name was moved forward,” Stern said. “I just feel like the City Council has been doing things quickly but not properly.”
Another long-time resident of the district, Harry McElroy, said that in his 36 years of residency, the current situation for him is “unprecedented.” He doesn’t support Hutt’s appointment because of her connection to Wesson, describing it as a “trickle down from the disenfranchisement.”
“I feel disenfranchised because I voted for a particular representation,” McElroy said. “With the mind that there would be a particular infrastructure and staffing in place. But my vote didn’t matter because what I voted for is not in place.”
At least three council members seem prepared to agree.
In a separate motion Friday, Council members Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Monica Rodriguez called for the council to consider a “full range of available scenarios” on how to proceed with filling the vacant seat.
They sought 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.
Bonin later told City News Service on Friday that “there a large number of members who are not prepared to vote up or down one name.”
“Council District 10 needs a clear and transparent process in the selection of its leadership,” said Harris-Dawson, whose district also includes parts of South Los Angeles, on Twitter. “This means a full public discussion with the district’s people, families, stakeholders, and institutions. Anything less is a disservice to CD10 and undermines the democratic process.”
Eunisses Hernandez, council member-elect for District 1, agreed with the three council members.
“It is not appropriate for this decision to only be in the hands of a few,” Hernandez said on Twitter.
According to her office, Martinez proposed the appointment of Hutt rather than call for a special election to fill the vacancy because of the possibility of a conflict if Ridley-Thomas was cleared of the charges before his term was completed but after residents had elected another council member.
Sophie Gilchrist, director of communications for Martinez, told City News Service her office has heard from hundreds of residents supporting Hutt through letters, emails and phone calls over the past few weeks.
“We heard from community organizations, nonprofits and directly from residents from the 10th Council District,” Gilchrist said.
More than 80 pages of emails in support of Hutt’s appointment are attached to the council file containing Martinez’s motion.
Sherri Ealey, president of the Baldwin Neighborhood Homeowners Association, wrote in a letter to Martinez that the district is currently vulnerable and “cannot continue to hope that other members of the council will protect or preserve our interests.”
“Without having someone who can fully execute the duties of this office CD10 could suffer irreparable harm prior to a regularly scheduled election,” Ealey wrote.