City Council President Appoints HIMSELF To Temporarily Fill Vacant Council Seat
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson—a man who is already responsible for overseeing a district that spans from Koreatown to South L.A.—announced Thursday that he'd, uh, selected himself to temporarily manage the San Fernando Valley district vacated by now former-Councilman Felipe Fuentes. A quick refresher for readers who don't follow City Hall minutiae because chances are their lives are far more fulfilling and exciting than mine: Fuentes dropped a major bombshell last month when he announced he'd be stepping down before his term ended to take a lobbyist job. Paraphrasing here, but Fuentes basically told his constituents, sure, I promised to represent you guys for the next ten months, but cushy lobbyist jobs don’t grow on trees. #YOLO
The city could theoretically have held a special election to replace Fuentes and fill the vacancy before the planned March election, but doing so wouldn't have been cheap.
Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (C) gives the Herb Wesson (then the Assembly Speaker of the House) in the Assembly Chambers of the State Capitol January 6, 2004 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)
Wesson (he's in charge of this stuff as Council President) had previously told an L.A. Times reporter that he would leave the seat vacant and put in a caretaker to oversee the district in the interim... But looks like Fuentes wasn't the only one feeling the #YOLO vibes. Wesson, who will still have only one vote, will now temporarily be responsible for both Council District 10 and Council District 7. He'll have twice as many constituents, representing approximately a half million people, according to the Times. For context, that is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Atlanta, or that of Charleston, Des Moines, Hartford, and Green Bay, combined. If Wesson were a mayor, as L.A. Times reporter Peter Jamison explained in a tweet, his constituency would now constitute the 6th-largest city in California.
Added bonus: "Serving constituents in the Valley, even temporarily, could enhance Wesson's political profile, helping him should he run for citywide office in the future," according to the Times.
Fuente's District 7 predecessor, former Councilman Richard Alarcon, told the Times that he'd never heard of an L.A. council member taking responsibility for two districts.
In the interest of finding out a) just how wackadoodle a development today's announcement actually was, and b) if there was any historical precedent for one city councilmember representing multiple districts here in L.A., I called a bunch of political science professors and local government experts. After I explained what was going on, the initial response was almost unanimous—"wow." No one I spoke with could think of a single historical precedent for the situation.
Frank V. Zerunyan, the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy's Professor of the Practice of Governance, told LAist that he too couldn't think of a precedent. Zerunyan, who in the past has served as president of California Contracts Cities Association (the second largest municipal organization in the state of California) and as a two-term mayor for the city of Rolling Hills Estates, explained that Los Angeles is actually somewhat unique in its City Council structure, because most cities just have a set number of councilmembers who represent the whole city, as opposed to individual districts correlating to separate geographic areas within the city.
"Theoretically," he said, "there is no problem for Mr. Wesson to represent both... That being said, there is obviously a district for a reason. It's instructive that the people of L.A. created 15 districts; therefore they feel that 15 people can't serve all 3.9 million people [as a whole], and that they can only serve in their respective district where they were elected."
Zerunyan also said that the situation could potentially create conflicts when and if the interests of one district differ from that of the other. "The question becomes how he will resolve that conflict, and for which district he would vote. At the end of the day, this creates some governance problems."