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Councilmembers' Names Appear on List Urging Them to Support Hotel Ordinance

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By Jorge Casuso

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a statementt from the union explaining how the councilmembers' names appeared on the list of supporters.

August 23, 2019 -- It isn't often that a Councilmember's name appears on a list of supporters below a letter urging them to vote for an item on the agenda.

But that's what happened when Mayor Gleam Davis and Councilmembers Greg Morena and Ted Winterer were listed among the supporters of the Hotel Workers Ordinance the Council will take up Tuesday.

The letter -- received by the City Manager on August 9 and posted on Wednesday as an attachment to the agenda -- outlines the four provisions of the ordinance to protect workers from sexual violence, heavy workloads and changes in management and ownership.

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It asks Mayor Davis and the City Councilmembers to "please stand with workers and pass this common sense legislation."

The three council members are among the 674 names that appear on a 20-page spreadsheet below the letter listing those who support the ordinance.

"Those names are Santa Monica residents, community members and Santa Monica workers that signed this letter of support for the policy," said Maria Hernandez, the spokesperson for Unite HERE Local 11.

"All these people signed in support of this bill."

Mayor Davis said she has publicly supported the ordinance but does not remember signing the letter.

"I honestly do not remember singing it," she said after reviewing the attachment. "But it is only a petition asking for what the petitioners wanted to see in an ordinance.

"As I supported the item to bring this matter before the council, I continue to support the subject matter of the ordinance," Davis said.

Winterer said he had attended an informational event for the community and put his name on the sign-in sheet but never signed a letter or petition indicating that he supported the ordinance.

"It's always my policy not to publicly support something in advance of a hearing," Winterer said.

In a statement to the Lookout, union officials said the councilmembers' names appeared on the list due to "an administrative error."

The list "inadvertently included the names of several dozen people who did not sign statements of support, but who rather had only attended a public educational forum held September 23, 2018 concerning hotel worker issues.

"Among the inadvertently included names were those of three councilmembers," the statement said. "We regret the error."

Morena did not return a request for comment by deadline.

Experts in government ethics said that Councilmembers who advocate for issues they will vote on are not violating any laws or codes of conduct.

But taking a position, some experts said, raises questions about an elected official's ability to be objective when they vote on the issue.

Frank Zerunyan, who teaches the practice of governance at USC, believes policymakers must strike a balance between their roles as citizens and lawmakers.

"Just because you are a council member doesn't mean you cease to be a citizen of the city you live in," said Zerunyan, who has served on the Rolling Hills Estates City Council since 2003.

But "you would think every council member would want to preserve their objectivity," he said. "You want to make solid policy on the basis of all the evidence.

"I'm not sure it's a good practice to give away your policymaking objectivity."

Former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre takes a harsher stance.

"How can you say you are giving fair consideration (to an issue) if you have already made up your mind?" said Aguirre, who is a partner in the law firm Aguirre & Severson LLP.

"An ordinance requires a fair hearing, and if you've already committed, you are saying, 'I am going to vote for this ordinance irrespective of what's said at the meeting.'"

Davis said her history of supporting hotel workers’ rights will not compromise her objectivity when she casts her vote on Tuesday.

"I have met with workers and others regarding their experiences with sexual harassment and assault as well as their concerns about work load," Davis said. "I also have met with representatives of our local hotels.

"I certainly have not prejudged Tuesday’s proposed ordinance and look forward to hearing the thoughts of my colleagues and the public."

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