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West Hollywood councilman admits he had sex with man he hired as deputy

After string of embarrassing allegations, West Hollywood to consider reforming City Council deputy system

Yes, West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran had sex with the man he later hired as his council deputy, he said Monday.

But after that intimacy the first night they met, it never happened again, Duran said; they became good friends, and he hired Ian Owens because he was well qualified for the job.

Duran and Owens have been part of the controversy swirling around West Hollywood City Council’s deputies -- highly paid full-time council aides. There have been accusations of electronic bugging, emailing personal conversations, illegally soliciting campaign contributions -- and the statement by Owens’ attorney that Duran hired Owens after meeting him on Grindr, a smartphone dating app for gay and bisexual men.

The City Council on Monday night could take steps to reform or eliminate its controversial deputy system. The city has been embarrassed in recent weeks by the string of allegations regarding the deputies.

Owens was suspended in January for allegedly bugging fellow deputy Fran Solomon’s office and emailing snippets of her personal phone conversations. Owens later said he was a “whistle-blower” and claimed Solomon was illegally soliciting campaign contributions on city time for her boss, Councilman John Heilman, who is up for reelection.

Owens also said his claims were ignored by his own boss, Duran, because he had spurned Duran’s sexual advances and threatened a lawsuit against the city unless several demands were met, including that he be allowed to return to his deputy job. 

Duran said he hired Owens because he was qualified, having a degree in finance and experience in hotel development and real estate.

"People are trying to make him sound like he was unqualified and got the job based on a one-time incident," Duran said in a text message. "It's just not true and not fair to him."

On Monday night, the council will decide whether to appoint a subcommittee to study changes to the deputy system that would be implemented by this summer. The motion being considered would freeze the hiring of council deputies as they become vacant and use remaining deputies as “pooled resources” for all council offices.

There could be monumental change to the five-person council -- and its deputies -- this week, with three of the at-large seats up for election on Tuesday. Another seat, vacated by Jeffrey Prang when he became Los Angeles County assessor, is empty and will be filled in a special election in June.

“In light of the pending deputy vacancies in the City Council offices, there is a unique opportunity to reevaluate the council support staffing,” according to the motion initiated by council members John D’Amico and John Heilman and City Manager Paul Arevalo.

The deputies in the city of 35,000 are paid from $99,838 to $137,487 annually, receive full benefits and have even formed their own five-person union, the West Hollywood Council Deputies Assn., which sometimes takes positions on items pending before the City Council.

Several city officials said ongoing feuds among deputies sometimes make staff meetings difficult. Prang said the deputies don’t have much direct supervision because they answer to both the city manager and to individual council members, who have other jobs and are typically not at City Hall during the day.

The motion being decided on Monday would have deputies report directly to the city manager for the next six months.

“Over the years, there have been a number of concerns raised regarding the productivity and functionality of [the deputy system] including duplication of effort, inconsistent responses to constituent questions, supervisory challenges and blurred lines of authority,” the motion states.

In a letter sent to the council on Sunday, Prang said that in the past, deputies “maintained a high degree of professionalism, working well together and often served as a means of reducing tension between … council members.”

“This, however, requires self-discipline and the ability to exercise good judgment in the absence of supervision; regrettably, this has been lacking of late,” Prang wrote.

In a statement, City Manager Arevalo said the “council staffing system needs to be updated, and now is an opportune time.”

For more West Hollywood news, follow @haileybranson on Twitter.

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