In the wake of search warrants being served on the Palmdale Mayor's office and home, a city council member is urging longtime Mayor Jim Ledford to step away, at least for now.
"What I'm suggesting is he take a leave of absence until the investigation is over," said City Councilman Austin Bishop. He said it's his understanding the investigation "may center around Ledford's relationship with certain city contractors."
Mayor for 25 years, Ledford has not commented since warrants were served Wednesday by Los Angeles County District Attorney's investigators. The DA's office has confirmed a total of six warrants, but declined to discuss the focus of the investigation.
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Ledford's campaign manager, Kamal Al-Katib, told the Los Angeles Times he believes the probe is related to questions about Ledford's consulting work, raised when Ledford was questioned under oath four years ago during a lawsuit against the city. Al-Katib described Ledford as an "honest man," and expressed confidence he acted properly. Al-Katib said he expects Ledford to respond next week.
Ledford is on a vacation that had been previously scheduled, said the city's communications manager, John Mlynar.
Also Friday, the Republican Party chairman for the Antelope Valley area, Drew Mercy, came forward to reveal he was one of two people who filed complaints about Ledford with the DA's office and the Fair Political Practices Commission. Mercy said the complaints were based on statements made in Ledford's deposition, and also on reports in the Antelope Valley Press newspaper.
"What I saw was shady activity," said Mercy.
The case in which Ledford's deposition involved a voter rights suit against the city of Palmdale. Questioning Ledford was prominent attorney R. Rex Parris, who also serves as mayor of neighboring Lancaster.
"Do I think he was doing illegal things then and illegal things now? Yes," said Parris on Friday.
Parris questioned Ledford about being paid to consult for a firm whose head also served as executive director of another entity, the Aero Institute, located in the Palmdale Civic Center. For a time, the city charged the Aero Institute a rental fee of only $1 a year, Ledford told Parris.
"When you're an elected official, you don't take money from people who do business with the city," Parris said. During the deposition, Ledford acknowledged he received $180,000 over three years from the consulting firm. Parris pressed Ledford on the nature of the job, and said his answers showed he did "essentially nothing." The firm is no longer in business.
"That's your basic definition of quid pro quo corruption," said Mercy.
Apart from urging Ledford to take a leave of absence, Bishop said he will seek to have the city "pursue our options to suspend any financial relationships with parties in this investigation until the matters are resolved." He also thinks the city should retain an outside attorney.
Parris said as Lancaster mayor, he was frustrated by Ledford's resistance to having Palmdale enter into a joint tax sharing arrangement. Parris contends that would have saved both cities money by not having to offer incentives to woo businesses deciding where in the Antelope Valley to locate.
"So that's why I was personally offended by it. Because it had such a detrimental impact on both cities," said Parris.
At the same time, Parris said Ledford had done much for Palmdale, and expressed sadness at what he now faces.
Unlike many elected officials in local politics, Ledford did not have an outside career. Palmdale pays its mayor $1,265 a month, below poverty level without other income.
"He did a lot of good things," Parris said, pausing. "There's a danger to this job. Lots of temptation."