Los Angeles City Council President Nuri Martinez’ proposal to appoint former longtime City Councilman Herb Wesson to the seat vacated by the suspended Mark Ridley-Thomas goes before the council on Tuesday, Feb. 22, amid pushback from some members of the community.
“With over 30 years in public service representing the residents of Council District 10, there is no better choice at this time than former council member Herb Wesson,” Martinez said after submitting her motion to appoint Wesson on Wednesday.
The 10th district seat became vacant in October after the council voted to suspend Ridley-Thomas, following his indictment in a federal bribery and conspiracy case unrelated to his time on the City Council, but rather during his tenure on the county Board of Supervisors. Ridley-Thomas has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is set for August. The district is now being overseen by a caretaker, Ridley-Thomas’s chief of staff Karly Katona, who is not empowered to vote on council matters.
Council members Mitch O’Farrell, Gil Cedillo and Paul Koretz signed on to Martinez’ motion.
But a lawsuit filed by residents on Friday aimed to derail the effort. The suit seeks to reinstate Ridley-Thomas, as well as halt Wesson’s appointment to fill the vacancy. The lawsuit was also filed on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership of Conference of Southern California, a civil rights organization that has ties to Ridley-Thomas, who led the group in the 1980s.
A spokeswoman for Martinez declined comment Friday on the lawsuit, and did not provide an updated response on Monday. Representatives for the City Attorney’s office also declined to comment.
Joining the opposition to the motion was Diane Robertson, a Leimert Park resident who serves on the Empowerment Congress West Neighborhood Council and a member of the Sutro Avenue Block Club, who joined 44 community members in signing a Feb. 7 letter to Martinez asking for a meeting. The group did not receive a response, Robertson said.
Martinez, however, said last week that she consulted residents and community leaders before naming Wesson as her pick to fill the vacancy in the council district.
Robertson, who described the process as “hasty,” urged that the appointment be slowed down to gather more community input. She and others who signed the Feb. 7 letter requested that before any action is taken, the council president should discuss with them the reinstatement of Ridley-Thomas as 10th district councilman, and “absent his reinstatement, the duration of any appointment” and “transparency between the City Council and the constituents ” of the district.
A representative for Martinez’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the group’s letter late Monday.
Robertson said she hosted a backyard fundraiser for Wesson’s bid for county supervisor, and phone-banked for Ridley-Thomas, explaining that she pointed this out to show that she wasn’t siding with either Wesson or Ridley-Thomas, but questioning the process.
Councilman Mike Bonin also pushed to slow down the process, issuing a statement Friday saying he wanted to see more options presented for filling the vacancy, as well as a report from the City Attorney on the matter.
Wesson represented the district as a councilman from 2005 until 2020. He was also an ally and mentor to Martinez. Prior to that he had been chief of staff to the district’s councilman at the time, Nate Holden.
The motion calls for Wesson to fill the vacancy through Dec. 31, 2022 or until Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or the charges are dropped.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed Friday, by supporters of Ridley-Thomas, represents a potential obstacle to the effort to appoint Wesson.
The lawsuit argues that in suspending Ridley-Thomas, the council violated the city charter, and deprived 10th district voters of their chosen representative. In the short-term, it aims to discourage the council from filling the vacancy. The effort contends that the charter prevents Wesson from being eligible for the appointment because he is termed out.
“We put them on notice that they better not make the vote on Tuesday,” said John Sweeney, the attorney representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and the organization’s president, Pastor William Smart. The other petitions are Joy Atkinson, Mary Lee, Kwame Cooper and Harry McElroy.
Sweeney said he expects a hearing will be scheduled as soon as Wednesday to seek a temporary restraining order to prevent Wesson from being appointed.