A member of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s staff is alleging his main opponent in the March 5 primary election, former state Assemblyman Mike Feurer, violated ethics rules by making a campaign statement at a Studio City Neighborhood Council meeting this week.
Feuer made the statement during a public comment portion of the meeting Wednesday night (see attached video), during which citizens were given two minutes each to address the council.
Sitting in the front row of the audience was William W. Carter, chief deputy of the city attorney’s office.
After Feuer completed his speech and the audience of about 40 people applauded, Feuer leaned over to Carter and said, “You can applaud, too, Bill.”
Carter replied, “Not if I think you committed a violation.”
When contacted on Thursday by Studio City Patch, Carter said rules for neighborhood councils state that a candidate cannot make campaign statements at a council meeting without opposing candidates also being given an opportunity to speak.
“His action was a violation of the rules,” Carter said. “I will ask our ethics counsel to review the matter.”
Feuer, whose term in the Assembly ended in December, said Department of Neighborhood Empowerment rules, which are written by the city attorney's office, gave him the right to speak.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I am careful about following every rule,” Feuer said. “Why, all of a sudden, are they concerned about what I say during public comments? It was my First Amendment expression during that time.”
Feuer also came to the Studio City meeting, held on the Radford Studios lot, to see that volunteers on the neighborhood council received certificates of appreciation that were prepared during his time as Assemblyman. Feuer had an aide hand out the certificates to avoid violating campaign rules.
Studio City Neighborhood Council President John Walker said Feuer originally had intended to present the certificates at a meeting toward the end of last year, but a time couldn’t be found because of scheduling conflicts, canceled meetings during the holidays, and Feuer’s involvement in a car accident that landed him in the hospital for several days.
“This was the earliest time I could get Mike Feuer here and when I put him on the agenda I got a call from the city attorney’s office,” Walker said. “I was told that I can’t put him on there because he can’t campaign at our meeting like that.”
Walker said he changed the agenda so that Feuer could make his statement during public comments.
Carter said the city attorney’s office received a tip from a Studio City resident last week that Feuer had been placed on the agenda, and the matter was referred to the office’s ethics attorneys to follow up with the neighborhood council.
Carter said he attended Wednesday’s meeting to assist City Councilman Paul Krekorian with his presentation about possible regulations on digital billboards, and then to stayed to hear Los Angeles Police Senior Lead Officer Mike Lewis’s presentation about crime in Studio City.
“I did not come to hear Mike Feuer specifically, but I did stay,” Carter told Patch.
In fact, Carter stayed well after Krekorian and Lewis left the meeting.
“I do not blame the Neighborhood Council, nor Mr. Walker,” Carter said, “they didn’t do anything wrong. But what [Feuer] did was inappropriate. If this was going to be a campaign speech, there should have been all the candidates running for the office. I believe Mr. Walker thought that he was only going to present the certificates, and didn't know about the campaigning.”
Carter said he did not hear Walker open the public comment period before Feuer spoke. He said he was recusing himself from the matter, which would be handled by Deputy City Attorney Renee Stadel head of the office’s Ethics, Elections and Governance team, and Assistant City Attorney Valerie Flores, who works on neighborhood council issues.
In the past, candidates for mayor, city controller and other races have come to the Studio City Neighborhood Council to give stump speeches. In fact, Krekorian did so while he was running for city council. Jan Perry, Kevin James and Wendy Greuel were all allotted at least 20 minutes at the board’s meetings over the past year.
“I think it’s important to give a voice to all the candidates, and our stakeholders are very interested in what they have to say,” Walker said about the occasional candidate visits. None of the meetings have been in a debate format, but they all allowed questions from both the audience and the board. None of the past speeches included more than one candidate at the same time, but in some cases, rival candidates came to listen.
Feuer pointed out that no one stopped him during his two-minute speech or indicated that what he was saying was inappropriate.
"Mr. Trutanich has tried to bully everyone from City Council members to peaceful protesters, but I will not allow him to misuse his office to silence an opponent,” Feuer said. “Candidates for city office speak to neighborhood councils all the time. In fact, the rules governing Neighborhood Councils require that candidates wishing to do so be allowed to speak during public comment periods. I was pleased to do so for two minutes [Wednesday] night at the Studio City Neighborhood Council meeting. I believe in the First Amendment, I believe in following the rules, and I believe in fairness. Unfortunately for the residents of Los Angeles, the current city attorney believes in none of these values.”
Feuer said he plans to continue speaking before other neighborhood councils.
"Throughout this campaign I will continue to reach out to voters throughout Los Angeles, including attending neighborhood council meetings,” Feuer said. “Mr. Trutanich may not want to defend his record of misplaced priorities and failed leadership in our city's neighborhoods, but he will not prevent me from communicating my message to L.A.'s voters and neighborhood leaders."