The uproar over the leaked recording of three LA City Council members making or laughing about racist remarks has already led to the resignation of Councilwoman Nury Martinez. But unless Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo decide to resign, the rest of the council might not be able to force them out of office.
So what would happen if the people on the recording had been ordinary city employees?
The recorded October 2021 conversation at the center of the scandal involved Martinez, Cedillo and de León, and Ron Herrera, a top LA County labor official. Their discussion about redistricting included several racist comments regarding the 2-year-old adopted Black son of Councilman Mike Bonin.
In the city of LA, there is no specific rule about the severity of the consequences for city workers who break laws or employment rules, but certainly there have been cases where employees have been fired for doing similar things.
Get Southern California news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC LA newsletters.
The leaked audio that captured the three council members led almost immediately to calls for resignations.
But because the three are elected officials, there’s no simple way to force them out of office without something like a pending criminal charge.
Had they been conventional city employees, firing would definitely be on the table.
Take the 2014 leaked recording of former LAPD narcotics Detective Frank Lyga who was fired after making a remark during a discussion of his killing of an off-duty officer who’d threatened Lyga with a gun in Studio City.
“I could have killed a whole truckload of them, and would have been happy doing it," he was heard saying
Lyga made other comments deemed offensive, and the LAPD moved quickly to force him out.
A quick search through recent city termination files at the personnel department shows cases like this: An administrative clerk who worked in the city’s finance department was fired in July after she was found to have used abusive language, or made inappropriate statements.
Sometimes the punishment is less permanent, like a benefits specialist at the fire and police pension department who was suspended for 10 days on a similar allegation of using abusive language or making inappropriate statements.
Former councilman and LADP officer Dennis Zine says he thought all three council members caught on the recording should have resigned right away.
“I was outraged when I heard the recording," he said.
“I said this is not going to end, and the only way out is for those folks to leave office - as the only way to calm the storm.”
Zine spent 12 years in council, 33 years at the LAPD, and some of those years as a director of the police officers’ union.
He says in all his time in government service he never, ever heard anyone say anything like what was caught on the leaked recording, that captured a secret discussion on how to manipulate the city’s voting districts.
He says if it were a city employee on the recording — rather than an elected official — it could lead to a termination.
“There’s a policy now that you don’t discriminate. And there’s clearly discrimination with that plot they were trying to establish. So there’d be consequences, though I don’t know what the consequences would be," Zine said.
Nury Martinez resigned Wednesday, and again, because elected officials can’t be fired like other employees, the council’s acting president Mitch O’Farrell made another public plea Thursday for de Leon and Cedillo to resign.