City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended from office by a divided Los Angeles City Council Wednesday, shortly before he was arraigned on federal bribery and conspiracy charges stemming from his time serving on the county Board of Supervisors.
The motion to suspend Ridley-Thomas was introduced Tuesday by Council President Nury Martinez and seconded by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, the council president pro tem.
“The trial on the indictment has yet to take place and a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty; however, a council member who has been charged with public corruption cannot continue to exercise the powers of city office and preserve public trust,’’ the motion stated.
Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin said on Tuesday that pending the councilman’s suspension, he will cut off Ridley-Thomas’ salary and benefits.
Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Curren Price and Mike Bonin were the only three members who opposed the suspension.
Harris-Dawson called the action “unsettling and unnecessary,” while taking away a 64-year-old man’s income and healthcare during a difficult period.
“No one is above the law, but everyone ought to be treated equally under the law,” said Price, who urged the rest of the council to pause and not rush to judgement. “All have the right to due process, and that should take place in the court of law, not in council chambers.”
Bonin urged the City Council to not even consider the suspension on Wednesday, saying it was “too early’’ and that the council hadn’t considered the “full range of options,’’ as the indictment is only a week old.
“Having read this indictment, having known Mr. Ridley-Thomas for 30 years, I think it is important to give him the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to defend himself before we rush to judgment,’’ Bonin said.
Bonin added that the suspension would be disenfranchising the 10th district, which voted Ridley-Thomas into office last year.
Price said before the vote that his office has been “inundated’’ with calls of support for Ridley-Thomas from South L.A. residents.
“I choose to operate from a position of fairness, respect and decency, and I refuse to slaughter the reputation of someone who’s got a 40-year track record of dedicated public service,’’ Price said.
He added that the charges don’t involve Ridley-Thomas’ work for the city, echoing an argument made by Ridley-Thomas’ lawyer in a letter to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office Wednesday morning.
Ridley-Thomas’ lawyer Michael Proctor told City Attorney Mike Feuer in the letter that there is no legal basis for suspending the councilman, and he would explore “any and all legal action’’ challenging a suspension.
“Simply put, there are no allegations that involve Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ work as a city official,’’ Proctor wrote in the letter.
City councilmembers received a letter from OurWeekly publisher Natalie Cole opposing the suspension vote.
“First, Ridley-Thomas has been an unwavering public servant since the 1960s,” Cole wrote on Tuesday. “He is on the very short list of the most respected African-American leaders in California politics.”
Cole wrote that she was disappointed and outraged that council president Nury Martinez called for a vote.
“Second, this act is nothing short of a rush to judgement and I would think that the city council would and should walk lightly on this concern and not move so assumptively as if he has been found guilty.”
Ridley-Thomas said in a statement after his suspension that he was “humbled by the support of my colleagues who did not rush to judgment and disappointed in those who did.’’
He accused those 11 council members of stripping his constituents of their representation.
“I will continue fighting to clear my name, and I remain confident that such will be the case. But in the interim, the council has disenfranchised the residents of the 10th district.”
The indictment charges allege a quid-pro-quo relationship with USC involving county funds.
Suspending Ridley-Thomas comes at a critical time for the council as a whole, which is in the midst of a redistricting process that could dramatically alter all district boundaries.
Following Ridley-Thomas’ “not guilty” plea at Wednesday’s federal arraignment, Kayla Tilton, deputy for civic engagement and legislation for Ridley-Thomas’ office emailed: “The team remains in place and is dedicated to continuing to serve the constituents of the 10th District.”
In voting to suspend the councilman, the council relied on a section of the City Charter that allows for the suspension of an elected officer. It states that the council can suspend an elected officer pending trial if criminal proceedings have been brought against them relating to a violation of their official duties. In this case, those “official duties,” could be broadly determined to be those that took place while Ridley-Thomas was a county supervisor.
Lisa Fitch contributed to this story.