West Hollywood City Councilwoman Abbe Land successfully pushed for the removal Monday of a rent stabilization commissioner, touching off an angry reaction from residents who said the move was politically motivated.
The council voted 4 to 1 to uphold Land's request to remove Commissioner Rachelle Sommers Smith, whom Land appointed in June, 1990. Councilman Sal Guarriello voted against the removal.
Many of the 30 residents who addressed the council said Land's decision was punishment for Smith's involvement in the recently failed campaign to recall Mayor John Heilman. Land and Heilman are allies on the council and have voted together on numerous decisions in recent years.
"I supported the recall because I thought it was best for the city," Smith told the council. "I believe (Abbe and I) can work together to achieve our common goals. I do not believe that doing so requires conformity of political opinion."
Land asked Smith to resign on July 8, the day that leaders of the recall campaign were notified that their petition had failed to qualify for a special election. Smith refused, sending the matter to the council.
Smith will be replaced by David Etazadi, a West Hollywood resident, until Land appoints a permanent commissioner. Each of the city's five council members gets to appoint a member to the board, which enforces the city's rent control ordinance by overseeing rent increases and settling landlord-tenant disputes.
Land said she asked for Smith's removal because the two disagree on numerous issues, including commercial development, funding for social services and the city's new business-license tax. Land said that communication with Smith has broken down.
"Council members and direct appointees need to share like philosophies for the city," Land said. "That has not been the case between Rachelle and myself. Her participation in the recall effort brought home to me how much we differ over the goals for West Hollywood."
Still, many in the audience questioned Land's decision in light of her refusal to remove her appointee to the public safety commission, Norma Kemper, who was accused in March of harassing gays in her neighborhood.
"This is political censorship," said Bob Greene, a board member of the West Hollywood Community Alliance, a local business organization. "Rachelle Smith has done more than an adequate job in giving back to the city."
Several speakers complimented Smith's work on the commission during the last 13 months, noting that she has been a leading advocate of renters' rights. She had previously served on the city's business-license commission for four years.
Some members of the audience supported Land's right to remove Smith. "It is my understanding that commissioners are appointed to reflect the point of view of council members," said Helen Albert, a former council member. "If not, they should step down graciously."
Councilman Paul Koretz agreed. "There is no reason that a council member should be saddled with an appointee when there are no open lines of communication."
Koretz recommended changing the removal process, giving council members the authority to remove appointees without first getting approval. The council agreed to change the process, in part to avoid the unpleasant task of handling removals in public, and is expected to adopt an amendment to its existing ordinance by September.