LA Controller Backs Predecessor's Decision to Suspend Ridley-Thomas' Pay

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - City Controller Kenneth Mejia defended the decision of his predecessor, Ron Galperin, to strip the pay of suspended Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas after the City Council voted to reinstate Ridley- Thomas' pay earlier this month.

In a statement on Wednesday evening, Mejia claimed that the council ``overrode the checks and balances the City Charter put into place to protect the people of Los Angeles from having to pay the salaries of elected officials whom the City Council itself prohibited from doing their jobs.''

Ridley-Thomas -- who is facing federal corruption charges for misdeeds allegedly committed while he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors -- had his city salary and benefits reinstated by the council on Dec. 7 after he reached a settlement in his lawsuit against Galperin and the city.

Galperin had suspended Ridley-Thomas' pay and benefits after the councilman's indictment. Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the council last October after his indictment. The lawsuit claimed that Galperin acted unilaterally to cut Ridley-Thomas' pay and did so to help his campaign for state controller. Galperin finished fifth in the field of six.

The council voted 10-1 to approve the settlement. In a statement after the council's decision, Galperin maintained that his decision was ``in accordance with city law.''

``I acted because my job as Controller and the taxpayers' watchdog required it,'' Galperin said. The settlement included $254,000 in back pay and $99,500 in attorneys' fees.

Mejia defended the role of the controller's office in denying the pay of a suspended council member, citing the City Charter. ``While the Council has the legal authority to make this settlement, I believe it is important to reassert the fundamental principle that the taxpayers of Los Angeles shouldn't have to pay someone for work they are legally prohibited from doing,'' Mejia said. ``The Controller plays an essential function in giving this principle life.'' 

Mejia, who took office a few weeks ago, said he intends to use his office to ``ensure that the people of Los Angeles are getting what they pay for.''

Councilman Curren Price, in a statement, said the council decision ``corrects an action that should have never been allowed to happen in the first place.'' Price, along with Council President Paul Krekorian, introduced two motions earlier this year asking the city attorney to determine if the city controller has the authority to withhold Ridley-Thomas' pay.

``It is clear the City Controller made a rush to judgment without merit and I'm pleased by the council's decision to resolve this matter fairly,'' Price said. ``Council member Ridley-Thomas has a right to due process and that should take place in the court of law.'' Ridley-Thomas and former dean of the USC School of Social Work Marilyn Flynn were charged in a 20-count indictment alleging a secret deal in which Ridley-Thomas -- when he was a county supervisor -- agreed to steer county money to the university in return for admitting his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas into graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship. Flynn pleaded guilty in September.

In exchange, the indictment contends, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including lucrative deals to rovide 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.

The City Council's 10th District is currently being represented by Councilwoman Heather Hutt, who was appointed by the council to the seat in September. Prior to that, Hutt was serving as a caretaker while Herb Wesson -- who was originally appointed to fill in during Ridley-Thomas' suspension -- was legally barred from performing his duties on the council and eventually had to resign.

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