Editor’s Note: Just before press time, City Council President Nury Martinez made a motion to appoint former District 10 Councilman Herb Wesson to substitute for Mark Ridley-Thomas, pending Council approval.

By Rev. K.W. Tulloss and Rev. Norman S. Johnson, Sr.

guest oped

If L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez thought she could appoint her hand-picked choice to represent the Tenth Council District without the broad consultation demanded by CD10 stakeholders, she grossly underestimated the reaction from community stakeholders to her attempt and the depth of support for our own elected representative, Mark Ridley-Thomas. Her effort to appoint a puppet raises troubling questions about the motivation to render the seat vacant.

South Los Angeles Pastors for Public Accountability is a network composed of some of South L.A.’s largest congregations, representing 50,000 faithful. We are alarmed by the blatant contempt Council President Martinez has shown us and the CD10 constituents she and the Council majority disenfranchised. They did so with total disregard for Ridley-Thomas’ presumption of innocence. In our view, these two issues are inextricably linked. An appointment alone cannot cure the problem Martinez and company created.  

The introduction of the City Council motion by Martinez to suspend Ridley-Thomas on the morning of October 19 came just five days after the U.S. Attorney filed charges against him. Council member Ridley-Thomas publicly expressed his shock and surprise the same afternoon the indictment was made and shortly thereafter, professed his innocence and intention to have his day in court.  Nevertheless, in what must be considered a punitive move, the City Council waived the customary public hearing requirements in order to hear the Martinez motion, effectively denying CD10 constituents a voice in their disenfranchisement.  

The Council considered the Martinez motion with no findings of fact, no opportunity to rebut the charges, no disclosure of the legal rationale for suspension, no consideration of alternatives and no consultation with those most impacted by the decision. The Martinez motion enabled City Controller Ron Galperin to revoke Ridley-Thomas’ pay and benefits, thus denying his income and livelihood at the very moment he would be in most need of financial resources to fund a robust defense. Martinez made no public objection. Even LAPD officers in high profile police shootings and use of force cases receive their salaries while the Department investigates. The presumption of innocence, due process and constituent representation were discarded in favor of political expediency. Federally-indicted Members of Congress retain their votes and national security clearance while awaiting trial. 

It was a highly publicized rebuke of Councilmember Ridley-Thomas. It was a display of naked power and manifest disrespect for CD10 and Ridley-Thomas. Its effect was to undermine the presumption of innocence. It simultaneously disenfranchised CD10 constituents and a large segment of the City’s African American population at a moment when voter suppression and nullification of the voting rights of African Americans and other people of color are under assault.  

There may be something far more sinister at work in light of the haste with which the Council took action.  With elections just a few months away, the effort by Martinez to concentrate power in her hands is a bid to consolidate control of the Council as she eyes the vacancy left by Mayor Eric Garcetti when he becomes the U.S. Ambassador to India. The City Charter gives her the authority to temporarily fill the seat.  It is silent on the duration of such service. And with a City Attorney mired in controversy with his own conflicts over his office’s role in a DWP scandal and is pursuing mayoral ambitions, an interpretation of the City Charter favorable to Martinez’s goal should be anticipated. It is possible that she will try to serve as both Council President and Acting Mayor. And with a compliant Council in tow—all but two members are running for re-election or higher office—she is positioning herself as the city’s premier power broker. She will be able to use her positions to amplify support for her preferred candidates—for Mayor and City Council. With CD10’s vote beholden to her, and by extension the Council majority, any appointee will be her supplicant.  

As clergy steeped in the tradition of Black Church leadership on matters of justice we will not stand by idly.  We are compelled to speak out.  We value the work and servant leadership Councilmember Ridley-Thomas has displayed these past thirty years, especially his efforts to build a multi-racial democratic coalition rooted in the tradition of social justice, solidarity with other marginalized communities, defense of human rights, due process, civility and mutual respect. The City Council’s action in this matter causes us to question their commitment to these values.   

Plainly put, the Council action to suspend Councilmember Ridley-Thomas – led by the Council President without the consideration or input from CD10 – disenfranchised 10th District constituents. It denied them representation by the candidate of their choice and denied their Councilmember the presumption of innocence and due process he deserves. Our Wednesday, February 9, 2022 virtual meeting with Council President Martinez regarding Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ suspension and her interest in personally selecting someone to serve as Councilmember for CD10, over a week after we requested it, leaves us more alarmed than assured. We are reaching out to City Controller Ron Galperin to verify her assertion that revocation of Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ pay was a decision the Controller made unilaterally.

After our meeting, we remain even more convinced that this situation cannot be cured by allowing the person who so cavalierly unseated Councilmember Ridley-Thomas to be permitted to appoint someone to take his place. 

K. W. Tulloss is president, Baptist Ministers Conference. Norman S. Johnson, Sr. is pastor, First New Christian Missionary Baptist Church.  

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