A dispute over a West Hollywood City Council aide's involvement in a meeting initially sponsored by a political campaign committee subsided this week after the council agreed to officially sponsor the meeting and tightened regulations on aides' conduct.
Landlord organizers and a few civic activists criticized the council last week after learning that the name and city phone number of Barbara Grover, an aide to Councilwoman Helen Albert, had appeared on brochures distributed by United for West Hollywood, a campaign committee formed last year for Albert and Mayor John Heilman. The campaign committee sent out the flyers several weeks ago inviting West Hollywood residents to a public forum on housing issues that was held last night.
"The problem here is that you had a city employee working on non-city business," said Grafton Tanquary, an apartment owner and head of West Hollywood Concerned Citizens, a landlord-dominated group.
Tanquary said the incident reflected the growing involvement of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a powerful tenant rights advocacy group, in city government. The coalition last year set up United for West Hollywood as a campaign slate that included Albert and Heilman, who won, and Douglas Routh, who lost.
City officials said new regulations passed by the council last week should prevent similar incidents from occuring. The rules ban council aides from working on any community meetings, newsletters or literature without city sanction.
"We don't want flyers going out portraying a position that doesn't reflect the position of the council as a whole," said City Manager Paul Brotzman.
The rules also prohibit aides (who make between $22,000 and $28,000 annually) from working on election campaigns or personal assignments on council time.
"This is something the council has wanted for a long time," Brotzman said, adding, "People have to appreciate that we're a growing city. Slowly but surely, we're getting organized here."
Some tenant advocates at City Hall criticized apartment owners for using the incident for their own ends. "The landlords are jumping on this clearly to hurt Helen and John and the Coalition for Economic Survival," said Grover, who is also a coalition member.
Grover said she saw nothing wrong with the use of her name and city phone number because there were no rules governing such activity at the time.
Other council aides had also been involved in outside activities on council time, Grover said, including work on council members' newsletters and political fund-raisers. "I don't think I got more than three phone calls on the housing meeting while on council time," she added.
Albert and Heilman said they originally intended to sponsor the meeting under the jurisdiction of the council's housing subcommittee. But because the subcommittee needed official permission from the council, the two council members decided to conduct the meeting on their own.
"Then we began to realize that this should be a city function," Heilman said.
As a result, the council agreed last week to sponsor the meeting, a move also criticized by landlords.
"I think it's bad form for the city to become involved with any one political party," Tanquary said. "Housing is a very political subject. Here you have the council sanctioning a Coalition for Economic Survival event. And that goes back to the thing we've been saying all along, that Larry Gross (Coalition for Economic Survival coordinator) controls the council."
Gross, who moved the coalition's headquarters this week from Los Angeles to West Hollywood, scoffed at Tanquary's remarks. "It's just an attempt by the opposition to look for any reason to attack the council people and blow up issues that are not real council issues."
Gross said the coalition's move to West Hollywood not only reflected the group's influence in the area, but also because of the proximity to Hollywood, where the coalition also hopes to thrive.
"Given where our base is, it seemed like a good place to go," he said.