LOS ANGELES - After another raucous start to its meeting, the Los Angeles City Council voted 12-0 on a pair of motions Wednesday to censure Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo for their roles in the City Hall racism scandal -- the first time the council has censured council members at least since the censure rules were last updated in 2000.
The council technically also called for former Council President Nury Martinez to be censured, because the motions were introduced before her resignation from the council. But a representative from the city attorney's office said during a morning meeting of the council's Ad Hoc Censure Committee that it was unclear whether the council can censure a former member.
The committee had approved the censure motions 5-0, sending them to the full council for its later approval.
After the full council vote, Council President Paul Krekorian said at a briefing that, while some may view the censure motions as just symbolic, it was still important for the council to stand united in calling for the two members to step down.
"With this vote, we have literally done every possible action available to the council in demanding the resignation of our two colleagues," Krekorian said. "There are no steps remaining for this council to take to demand those resignations."
The council had to clear the chamber prior to taking up the censure item after protesters who had been chanting throughout the meeting ignored Krekorian's calls to quiet down before the council took up discussion.
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Police issued a dispersal order as council members left the chamber. A couple of dozen protesters stayed, still chanting, even after a police captain issued a warning over the loudspeaker. But the protesters left about 30 minutes later -- pledging to return on Friday.
It was the second straight day the council conducted business amid loud and persistent protests, though on Tuesday the chambers were not cleared.
Hamid Khan, an organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition who was among the protesters, told City News Service before the meeting that censuring the members was just a formality and that business could not continue as usual until there are resignations. He said the council, by trying to conduct meetings, was neglecting peoples' concerns as "white noise."
"This was again an indication of speaking over people' voices, trying to silence them, intimidate them, threaten them -- with a heavy police presence," Khan said,
Nana Gyamfi, executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, said at a briefing in front of City Hall that censuring was not enough.
"We understand that this City Council is going to do everything it can do, short of actually not having meetings and pressuring these resignations," Gyamfi said. "We are opposing that, and we'll continue to oppose that."
The council next meets on Friday. Krekorian said that he will address potential protests on a meeting-by-meeting basis, stressing that there can't be a "situation where a small number of people takes us off course" but that "we don't lock the doors to the City Council of Los Angeles."
Councilman Joe Buscaino posted on Twitter during the meeting, along with a video of the protesters: "We are allowing a few dozen people to disrupt the democratic process that serves four million residents. Allowing this disruptive and disrespectful behavior undermines the purpose of the city council, and public civility."
Meanwhile, both de León and Cedillo -- who have not attended a council meeting in more than two weeks -- continue to hear relentless calls for their resignations.
"Unfortunately, this is a reflection on all of us, whether we want it to be or not," said Councilman Paul Koretz, who was on the ad hoc committee.
Koretz sought to differentiate the comments made by the officials on the leaked 2021 recording from the rest of the City Council and dispel the notion that "everyone is manipulating things behind the scenes, and everyone is making comments about the residents of Los Angeles and each other and their families."
"This is not true," Koretz said. "This is not who the city is. This is not who the City Council is. I think it's important for this committee and all of us to get this message out to the public: Just because you're elected to the City Council, it doesn't automatically paint you with the same terrible brush."
Two weeks after the release of the leaked recording from the October 2021 conversation that included racist comments and redistricting maneuvers, de León and Cedillo have defied widespread calls for resignation that range from President Joe Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom to nearly all of their council colleagues.
Even with the council voting to censure the pair, it would likely do little to change the current situation aside from placing more pressure on them to step down.
"I hope this message gets through to them," Councilman John Lee said. "I hope they both understand that they are creating the situation that we are having to deal with today, not by our choice."
The council cannot remove de León or Cedillo; they would have to resign or, in de León's case, be recalled. Cedillo's term expires in December, as he lost his reelection bid earlier this year.
"Censure carries more weight than our individual calls for resignation," Councilman Bob Blumenfield said. "Censure is our collective voice, and this vote puts the council formally on record."
Krekorian said at the briefing that, "It was now up to the people of the 14th Council District to really step forward with a recall in order to remove Mr. de León from office."
Council rules state that the subject of the request for censure has the opportunity to "make an opening and a closing statement, to call witnesses on his or her behalf and to question his or her accusers," but neither councilmen took up that offer.
Under the City Charter, a seat would be considered vacant if a council member is absent from the city "without consent of the Council for more than 60 consecutive days" or has "ceased to discharge the duties of the office for 90 consecutive days."
Krekorian said Tuesday he would seek the advice of the city attorney on "what constitutes a failure to fulfill the duties of a council member."
"It's a challenging question," Krekorian said. "I certainly don't want a situation where the majority of a council who disagrees with a council member says, `Oh, well, he or she is not performing their duty.' So there has to be a clear definition of what that means."