LOS ANGELES - On the day Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned on federal bribery and conspiracy charges, his council colleagues will vote Wednesday on whether to immediately suspend him from office.
The motion to suspend Ridley-Thomas was introduced by Council President Nury Martinez and seconded by Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, the council president pro tem. The vote is scheduled as a special meeting at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, amid the council's regular 10 a.m. meeting.
"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 states.
In June 2020, the Los Angeles City Council voted to suspend Councilman Jose Huizar from office after he was charged with felony racketeering. Less than a week later, Controller Ron Galperin terminated Huizar's city salary payments. In a statement following that decision, Galperin said it was "unacceptable and impermissible" for an official "to continue drawing a paycheck and collect hard-earned taxpayer dollars" while being charged with public corruption and suspended from duties.
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The City Council doesn't have the power to remove a council member from office, and Huizar refused to resign, despite calls from Mayor Eric Garcetti and his colleagues to do so. Councilman Kevin de Leon won a special election in March 2020 to replace Huizar, but he didn't assume the position until Oct. 15, when the council appointed him to fill the seat that was left vacant by Huizar's suspension.
Ridley-Thomas told his colleagues on Monday that he will "immediately step back" from participating in council and committee meetings, but he intends to remain in office and resume participating "at the earliest appropriate time."
"I fully appreciate the importance of the council being able to conduct its business with minimal distractions. With that in mind, and with deep respect for each of you, I write to let you know of my intention to immediately step back from participating in both full council and committee meetings," Ridley-Thomas wrote in a letter to other council members.
In a statement Friday, Ridley-Thomas said he has "no intention of resigning" his seat and is focused on fighting the charges, which do not relate to his service on the City Council, but during his previous work on the county Board of Supervisors.
"Going forward, I intend to do two things: disprove the allegations leveled at me and continue the work I was elected to do -- most importantly, addressing the homeless and housing crisis," he said.
The 20-count indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court on Wednesday alleges that then-Supervisor Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, former dean of USC's School of Social Work, who prosecutors claim agreed to provide Ridley-Thomas' son with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship at the university. She also allegedly arranged to funnel a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas' campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by his son.
In exchange, the indictment alleges, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including contracts to provide services to the county Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.
Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon via Zoom. Flynn's arraignment was set for Oct. 25.
Attorneys for both have denied any wrongdoing.
On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger to hire an outside law firm to investigate the allegations against Ridley-Thomas and examine "the associated county processes and policies in place."
"Over the years, we have sought to prevent corruption by controlling opportunity, incentive and risk through robust processes and policies that provided transparency and accountability," according to the motion. "We recommit ourselves to these principles and to a renewed assessment of further process and policy improvements."
The 66-year-old Ridley-Thomas is a giant figure in local politics, previously serving on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then serving in the state Assembly and state Senate before he was elected to the powerful county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2020 when he returned to the City Council.
Councilman Joe Buscaino, who serves on the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, called for Ridley-Thomas to be surrender his council seat. Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who sits on the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, called on Ridley-Thomas to at least step down as chairman of the committee and be stripped of other committee assignments "in the short term."
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