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City Council Gets Personal Approving Nepotism Policy

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By Jorge Casuso

November 15, 2021 -- The City Council gave final approval to a nepotism policy last week after an unusual discussion centering on the sole commissioner who would be immediately ousted.

After avoiding naming the commissioner and alluding to political pressure applied to allow him to serve out his term, the Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted the nepotism policy initially approved in July ("Council Approves Nepotism Policy," July 28, 2021).

The policy bars the "wife, husband, registered domestic partner, son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister" of a Councilmember" from serving on a board, commission or task force.

The provision, effective immediately, forces the resignation of Mayor Sue Himmelrich's husband, Michael Soloff, from the Housing Commission he was appointed to in 2014, shortly before she was first elected.

A last-ditch effort to allow Soloff -- who is the co-chair of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) -- to serve until his term expires on June 30, failed on a 3 to 2 vote.

Councilmember Lana Negrete's substitute motion would have allowed sitting board and commission members barred from serving under the new policy to complete their terms.

Negrete and Councilmember Phil Brock both argued that Soloff, whom the councilmembers all lauded by allusion or name, had only months to serve on the Housing Commission where he has served as a leader for nearly eight years.

"I'm not sure whether or not kicking someone off a commission six months before his term expires is really just," said Brock who made the same argument in July, when it also failed to persuade the majority.

"I think there is room to have some flexibility in this for the benefit of residents who have been involved all these years," Brock said.

Councilmember Gleam Davis disagreed. If the City is going to have a nepotism policy, she said in rejecting Negrete's motion, "then we should have one now."

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre agreed the policy should apply immediately and across the board, saying he fears making an exception "just sends the wrong message."

Mayor Pro tem Kristin McCowan, who chaired the item after Mayor Himmelrich excused herself due to a conflict of interest, bemoaned how the issue had been focused on a lone commissioner.

"I'm incredibly uncomfortable with the fact this has been so overly personalized," McCowan said. "We cannot target a policy or when it takes effect based on one person.

"People are calling me as if I've lost friends over it," she said.

But Brock argued that the policy was in part politically motivated to keep de la Torre's wife, Maria Loya, from being appointed to the Planning Commission.

He questioned the timing of the Council's action, noting the City had failed to impose a nepotism policy during its first "146, 147 years."

The policy "was political from the outset" and intended to "kill two birds with one stone," Brock said, referring to Soloff and Loya.

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