What happens if the L.A. councilmembers resign?



President Biden on Tuesday joined the chorus of leaders calling on Los Angeles City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León to resign, with his press secretary telling reporters in the White House briefing room that the language in the leaked recording was “unacceptable” and “appalling.”

It is rare for the president to weigh in on council proceedings at the city level. But the White House statement — which came a day after the local Democratic establishment made near-unanimous calls for the councilmembers to step down — demonstrated the astonishing reach of the City Hall scandal.

The first City Council meeting since the leak was held Tuesday, shortly after Martinez announced that she was taking a leave of absence from the legislative body. She remains on the council but did not appear at Tuesday’s meeting, though both Cedillo and De León briefly took their seats in council chambers before leaving.

Can the City Council vote to suspend or remove them?

The short answer is no. The City Charter has a provision for councilmembers to suspend an elected officer only if they are awaiting trial in criminal proceedings, as was the case with former Councilmember Jose Huizar and suspended Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas.

According to the City Charter, there are rare situations in which a councilmember is removed, but it’s unlikely that any could apply in this scenario.

Short of them resigning, a recall election would likely be the only way to remove Martinez or De León from office. Cedillo does not have enough time left on his term to qualify for recall proceedings, according to city rules.

What happens if Martinez, Cedillo or De León resign?

Should any of the members resign, a vacancy on the council can be filled in one of two ways: with an appointment or a special election.

The last councilmember to resign was Mitchell Englander, who left his post two years early in 2018 to take a job with a sports and entertainment firm. A special election, won by Councilmember John Lee, was held to fill Englander’s seat. (Englander later served prison time after being convicted in a sprawling City Hall corruption case that also produced felony charges against Huizar.)

Cedillo lost a June election to challenger Eunisses Hernandez and has only a few weeks left in his term, making it unlikely that a special election would be called to fill his seat if he resigns.

But Martinez and De León both have a little more than two years left. According to calendar-based stipulations in the City Charter, special elections would be held to fill their seats if they resign.

Should both resign, the council could appoint people who aren’t running in the special election to temporarily fill the seats until a new councilmember is chosen. Zev Yaroslavsky, a veteran Los Angeles politician who spent nearly 20 years on the City Council and now directs the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, said he thought that would be the best course of action.

Is there any precedent for this situation?

In a word: no.

“There’s no precedent for multiple councilmembers resigning [at once] that I’m aware of, not in my adult lifetime,” Yaroslavsky said. “But this whole crisis is without precedent.”

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