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Herb Wesson engineers another shake-up at L.A. City Hall

The new City Council president strips rival lawmakers Bernard C. Parks and Jan Perry of key committee chairmanships. The move is expected to widen the divide between Wesson and the council's only other African American members.

January 28, 2012|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • When Herb Wesson, left, was chosen in November as the L.A. City Council's first black president, neither Jan Perry nor Bernard C. Parks -- the council's other two African American members -- were present.
When Herb Wesson, left, was chosen in November as the L.A. City Council's… (Genaro Molina, Francine…)

Newly installed Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson engineered another shake-up at City Hall on Friday, stripping rival lawmakers Bernard C. Parks and Jan Perry of key committee chairmanships that had major influence over the city budget crisis and utility rates.

The move is expected to widen the bitter divide between Wesson and the council's only other African American members, who are at odds with the council president over proposed new political district boundaries.

Parks, a fiscal hawk who led the powerful Budget and Finance Committee for eight years, was removed entirely from the five-member panel. Neither Parks nor Perry showed up for the November vote when Wesson was chosen as council's first black president. Parks' spokesman attributed the absence to illness, and Perry said she was excused from that day's meeting.

Wesson said afterward that both should have been there.

Perry was removed Friday as chairwoman of the Energy and Environment Committee, which reviews proposals for electricity and water rate increases at the Department of Water and Power.

The changes, part of a broader Wesson reorganization of lawmaker assignments, could make it easier for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a close Wesson ally, to get some of his spending proposals passed. Parks, an influential voice on the city budget, stalled or killed key Villaraigosa proposals in his committee, including one to balance the budget by borrowing $43 million over five years to pay for an early retirement program for city employees.

Wesson had no comment on Friday's moves and Parks downplayed any hard feelings, saying committee assignments are not guaranteed. "I'm looking forward to having an extra 20 to 30 hours a week to focus on my district and my constituents," he said in a statement.

Perry has been an obstacle to the mayor's push to increase utility rates at the Department of Water and Power. She and Parks also criticized a Villaraigosa proposal, floated two months ago, to borrow 27 years' worth of transportation funds to pay for a blitz of road repairs.

Perry suggested that her removal from the energy committee was tied to her absence from the vote to make Wesson president. Nevertheless, she said she was "pleasantly surprised" with a new position on the council's Education and Neighborhoods Committee. She wants to take the panel into neighborhoods across the city to discuss "transparency, corruption and civic engagement."

"It's a great opportunity," said Perry, who is running for mayor.

The committee changes take effect Feb. 6. Councilman Jose Huizar, another Villaraigosa ally, will be in charge of the energy committee. The budget committee will be headed by Councilman Paul Krekorian, who praised Parks for his work on the budget.

"His fiscal discipline has helped keep the city afloat in incredibly stormy seas," said Krekorian, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley.

Even before the committee assignments were made, Parks and Wesson had been at odds over new council district lines proposed by a 21-member panel. Over the last week, Wesson's appointee on the city Redistricting Commission pushed a plan — since abandoned — to strip most of Baldwin Hills, the neighborhood where Parks lives, from the South Los Angeles district he represents.

The proposed redistricting map released Wednesday by the commission takes Baldwin Vista and the residential section of Leimert Park out of Parks' 8th District. Parks complained that his district was being treated like a "junkyard," picked over for parts to strengthen other lawmakers' political domains.

The redistricting panel's top executive, former Wesson aide Andrew Westall, was chosen over Parks' opposition. Westall has been a key figure in an unrelated legal dispute involving some of Parks' campaign funds.

Perry quit the council's No. 2 post three months ago, alleging that the drawing of new district boundaries — and the negotiations over the selection of a new president — were happening behind closed doors.

The proposed redistricting maps released this week also give Huizar the vast majority of downtown, considered a hub of campaign contributors. Much of that area is currently represented by Perry.

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