ALAN STRASBURG: City should broadcast House Candidates Forum

Last night, the West Hollywood City Council refused to allow city staff to broadcast on WEHOTV a serious forum of city council candidates to be co-hosted by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, a foundation for the vitality of the city, and by the League of Women Voters, the nation’s most respected and established debate sponsor, and by a coalition of nine established neighborhood groups representing West Hollywood residents. Denying access to broadcast this forum on WEHOTV is an unprecedented abuse of the Board Members’ Public Trust Offices. I could sense issues when the item was removed from the consent schedule. The unanimous vote, with Lauren Meister doing the right thing by recusing herself due to her status as a re-election candidate, smacks of official censure of the most important citizen engagement in our democracy. This government overreach is an intrusion into the democratic and fair process of public information that this forum, and I hope others, are designed to do.

A public trust office is a sacred space that should be held by people who truly want to do the people’s business. In the rules of the United States Senate, an office of public trust is described as follows:

“The ideal concept of public office, expressed by the words: “A public office is a public office”, means that the officer has been entrusted with public power by the people; that the officer holds this power in trust to use it only for his benefit and never for his benefit or that of a few; and that the officer must never conduct his own affairs in such a way as to prejudice the public interest. All conduct of members of the Senate should be guided by this overarching concept of public service. (Editorial note, quoting verbatim using the limited pronouns found in the published text.)

There is no public interest in censoring an event that has precedent in this city. In fact, every serving member of this council has previously participated in House-sponsored candidate forums. Censoring this year’s forum is a clear attack on the public interest.

It is extremely offensive and borderline comical that John D’Amico suggested that he and Lindsey Horvath could serve as impartial arbiters to consider the issues given that their terms on the board will soon end. They both sponsored candidates and/or donated to candidates during the November City Council election. At least Horvath had the decency to back off on the lewd suggestion, perhaps realizing the proposal was ridiculous. There is no public interest in citizens’ questions being scrutinized (censored!) by anyone, anywhere, anytime. Was this affront to fair play merely a petty attempt to protect the incumbents’ favourite, endorsed and financially backed candidates from legitimate public scrutiny? Has the election process in West Hollywood turned into a debate by misinformation spread by crafty campaign mailings that offend the environment and pollute our mailboxes?

West Hollywood deserves better than naïve practitioners of provincial politics. We deserve a thorough discussion of the important issues and our own selection of candidates who are submitted

to legitimate community forums. Last night’s action to prevent the use of city resources was a naked power grab by moralizing hypocrites who clearly failed basic high school civics. I even question the fundamental premise that the council should micromanage the use of city resources such as WEHOTV, especially for gross political abuse; it is better to leave this management in the hands of the professional staff of the city.

John Erickson declared war on the Chamber of Commerce a long time ago. This latest skirmish is by far the most flagrant and probably the most coordinated attack on the Chamber, and by extension all residents of West Hollywood for whom the Chamber promotes economic vitality. It’s a vindictive vendetta, well known throughout West Hollywood.

The insinuation communicated by council members that this forum is not fair and impartial is pure ordeal and an insult to the Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters and the nine local neighborhood groups that have formed a coalition at the city level to develop, produce and promote this important public debate; a coalition that collectively developed the questions to ask. It’s a coalition of West Hollywood people made up of our neighbors and friends from every corner of the city.

Despite this abuse of power and the breach of public trust it represents, the forum will continue and an increasingly engaged (and enraged!) public will tune in for real-time responses from election candidates to inform them and make decisions. on who will best represent the interests of West Hollywood residents and businesses over the next two years.

We deserve better than a banana republic. We deserve people who honor their duties of public trust and truly support full civic engagement. Shame on John Erickson, Sepi Shyne, Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico.

Melvin B. Baillie