The Los Angeles City Council's Ad Hoc Censure Committee Wednesday voted 5-0 on a pair of motions to censure Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo for their roles in the City Hall racism scandal -- forwarding the motions to the full council for expected votes later this morning.
"In most people's memories, it's the first time there has been a censure motion heard against a councilmember," Council President Paul Krekorian said at a briefing on Tuesday.
Wednesday morning's approval by the committee, chaired by Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, was the first step of the day toward formally admonishing the two embattled councilmen, who continue to hear relentless calls for their resignations.
The full council was expected to complete the process at its regular meeting following the committee vote.
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"Unfortunately, this is a reflection on all of us, whether we want it to be or not," said Councilman Paul Koretz, who was on the ad hoc committee.
Koretz sought to differentiate the comments made by the officials on the leaked 2021 recording from the rest of the City Council and dispel the notion that "everyone is manipulating things behind the scenes, and everyone is making comments about the residents of Los Angeles and each other and their families."
"This is not true," Koretz said. "This is not who the city is. This is not who the City Council is. I think it's important for this committee and all of us to get this message out to the public: Just because you're elected to the City Council, it doesn't automatically paint you with the same terrible brush."
The motions technically also call for former Council President Nury Martinez to be censured because they were introduced before her resignation. Two weeks after the release of the leaked recording from the October 2021 conversation that included racist comments and redistricting maneuvers, de León and Cedillo have defied widespread calls for resignation that range from
President Joe Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom to nearly all of their council colleagues.
Even if the council votes to censure the pair, it would likely do little to change the current situation aside from placing more pressure on them to step down. Neither de León and Cedillo has attended a council meeting in more than two weeks.
The council cannot remove de León or Cedillo; they would have to resign or, in de León's case, be recalled. Cedillo's term expires in December, as he lost his reelection bid earlier this year. Krekorian reiterated Tuesday that the council has taken "every legal option available" to encourage resignations.
Council rules state that the subject of the request for censure has the opportunity to "make an opening and a closing statement, to call witnesses on his or her behalf and to question his or her accusers." But Pete Brown, a spokesman for de León, said Tuesday that de León will not be attending council meetings this week, and there was no timeline for when he would return to the council. A spokesman for Cedillo did not return a request for comment Monday, but has previously maintained that the councilman is at "a place of reflection."
Under the City Charter, a seat would be considered vacant if a council member is absent from the city "without consent of the Council for more than 60 consecutive days'' or has "ceased to discharge the duties of the office for 90 consecutive days."
Krekorian said he would seek the advice of the city attorney on "what constitutes a failure to fulfill the duties of a councilmember."
"It's a challenging question,'' Krekorian said. "I certainly don't want a situation where the majority of a council who disagrees with a councilmember says, 'Oh well, he or she is not performing their duty.' So there has to be a clear definition of what that means."
The council is also expected to again face protesters attempting to disrupt the meeting. On Tuesday, Krekorian and the council carried on despite constant chanting and shouting from a couple of dozen protesters demanding resignations before the council resumes business.
"We're in a position right now, because of the action of three members, that the council is really struggling to move forward to function in a normal way," Krekorian said.
On Tuesday, none of the people who signed up for in-person public comment approached the podium, which was crowded by protesters. Instead, some council members put on earphones to listen to those who called in to give comment, with Tuesday being the first day of a hybrid public comment system that allowed people to call in for testimony.
On Oct. 12, the last time the council had a meeting at City Hall prior to Tuesday, protesters chanting "No resignations, no meeting" effectively forced the council to adjourn without starting the meeting. The following meeting on Oct. 14 was canceled, and then the council met virtually last week after two of its members tested positive for COVID-19.
Krekorian said he never considered having police clear the chamber, as the council did over the summer under Martinez when protesters disrupted meetings over an item concerning homeless encampments. All of the council members could hear what was happening during the meeting, according to Krekorian, though very few words were audible to the public sitting in the chamber over the chants. The meeting was audible on the live stream, and the council heard from 122 callers during an hour and 45 minutes of public comment.
The council president admitted that those attending in-person not being able to hear was "a problem" and said he would revisit the situation.
Krekorian said that if a member of the public wanted to give in-person testimony, he would "hope that the people who are trying to prevent that from happening would allow other members of the public to come down and speak."
He stressed that clearing the chamber would be a last resort. Hearing people yell profanities was "uncomfortable," but part of the democratic process, he said.
"As long as we can continue to do our business, that's where I'm going to draw a clear line," Krekorian said. "People can vent. People can yell. People can be rude. That's OK. People can't stop the business of the City Council of Los Angeles."