NEWS / CONTEXT

D’Amico top vote-getter in West Hollywood Election; Lunch with Fran Solomon
Karen Ocamb
3/18/2011

In the March 14 public final vote count of the remaining provisional and mail-in ballots for the March 8 election in West Hollywood, challenger John D’Amico came in as the top vote-getter with 2,876 votes. Incumbent City Councilmember Abbe Land secured 2,834 votes total, while Mayor John Heilman garnered 2,626 votes. Additionally, voters defeated Ballot Measure A, the controversial initiative that would have permitted “tall wall advertising” on Santa Monica and Beverly Boulevards.

The final count will be certified at the regular West Council meeting on March 21 at West Hollywood Park Auditorium, where the elected councilmembers will also be sworn in and the next mayor and mayor pro tem will be elected. (See weho.org for more info and meeting agenda.)

There are 24,496 registered voters in West Hollywood—6,105 of whom cast ballots. That’s a 25 percent turnout, up from the 18 percent turnout in 2009. Former councilmember Steve Martin came in fourth with 2,320, and unseated Councilmember Lindsey Horvath came in fifth with 2,124 votes. Scott Schmidt garnered 1,447 votes; Mito Aviles got 1,057; Lucas John got 559; Mark Gonzaga got 550; and Martin Topp—who dropped out of the race—got 158 votes.

One potentially unresolved issue revolves around questions of impropriety regarding city-paid lunches taken by Heilman’s longtime deputy, Fran Solomon. News reports based on documents released by the challengers calculated that Solomon spent $13,000 over a several month period and extrapolated that the cost could reach as high as $100,000.

The city’s finance department responded quickly, which Frontiers confirmed with Director Anil Gandhy. “The credit card expenditures for 2010 incurred by city employee Fran Solomon totaled less than $2,000 for the entire year. According to our records, these expenditures were for official city business meetings with various community stakeholders. Additional expenditures on the credit card were incurred by other staff persons in the furtherance of municipal business, and there are no violations of any city policies in the use of the city’s official credit card. Additionally, no public funds have been expended for any private club membership, and the pens and gift cards were in recognition of employee milestones,” read the statement. “The City of West Hollywood understands and has always taken seriously its fiduciary responsibility in managing public funds. The city has in place a written expense reimbursement policy adopted by the City Council that complies with the requirements of Government Code Sections 53232.2 and 53232.3 (“AB 1234”). Any expenditure charged on a City of West Hollywood credit card must be in compliance with the policy and in furtherance of a municipal purpose. All credit card purchases are reviewed by staff in the finance department to ensure appropriate documentation and that the purpose of the expenditure was for legitimate city business.”

Additionally, Frontiers went to a “dutch treat” lunch with Solomon at the French Market for her response.

“What lunch is about is one-on-one relationships, seeing people individually, not as part of a group,” Solomon said over soup and half a sandwich, “talking to people and getting to the root of their issues.”

Solomon noted the press reports and the city’s response. “My total expenses for lunch over an almost 13-month period while John [Heilman] was substantially mayor, was $1,900 and change. So those were the true and correct expenses,” Solomon said. “We’ve done legitimate business. Most of the people or organizations I’ve met with is to move projects and programs forward.

“I don’t believe that there is anyone listed on that breakdown who is a developer—they were all community people or organizational people,” Solomon continued. “There were accusations that I had taken out developers, but the city has a very, very strong policy about allowing people to pay for you, particularly if there is a project that is up for deliberation, or with expeditors or developers, with lobbyists. The policy is: ‘Don’t Do That!’ You open yourself wide-up. And so it made a lot more sense for me, whenever I went out with anybody, to just pick up the check.”Why were the lunches so expensive? “There weren’t that many that were expensive,” Solomon said. “Define expensive. I would say that 75 percent of these lunches were under $50. There were probably a dozen lunches over the period of time—the year, the 13 months—that were $100 to $125. Sometimes those included more than two people.”

Solomon noted that she doesn’t drink, nor does she stay in the city at night, other than for city-related business, nor does she eat oysters, as reported. “When I am not working on behalf of the city, I am home. I’m not a member of SoHo House—I’ve been there three times. SoHo House is a private club in the Boa Building—I’m not a member. I don’t dine there. I’ve never been there for lunch that I can recall—maybe once as part of a bigger group that I was not responsible for—and only a couple of fundraisers after that,” she said, shaking her head.

“Look, this was a last minute campaign effort that was strategized to impact this most recent election,” Solomon said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I get it. Our aim now is to really move forward. There’s a lot to be done over the next four years and happily, we get an opportunity to do that.”


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