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City Controller suspends pay for Ridley-Thomas

Rev. Lawson Nov. 23rd at rally for Mark Ridley Thomas.

L.A. Controller Ron Galperin cut off Mark Ridley-Thomas’s City pay following last Wednesday’s City Council vote to suspend him over his 20 federal corruption charges.

“After today’s City Council vote, Mark Ridley-Thomas is no longer empowered to carry out the duties and responsibilities for which he was elected, and he can no longer be present to effectively serve his constituents or represent their interests at City Hall,” Galperin’s statement reads.

“While Ridley-Thomas has had many years of honorable public service, I will not use city money to pay the salary of an elected official facing federal bribery and fraud charges who is now legally unable to do his job,” he added. “The people of Los Angeles deserve better from their government leaders. In accordance with the City Charter, I am exercising my authority as L.A. City Controller to suspend Ridley-Thomas’s salary effective October 21, 2021.”

The City Council suspended Ridley-Thomas pursuant to City Charter section 211, and Galperin stopped salary payments pursuant to section 218. The payroll division of the Controller’s Office is responsible for paying the salaries of all city employees and elected officials.

Ridley-Thomas’s biweekly salary is $8,575.84, which comes out to $223,829.42 annually.

A number of people have taken sides in the matter.

“The federal indictment of Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas is disappointing and a sad day for our city,” reads a statement from mayoral candidate Mel Wilson. “Los Angeles streets are dirty and it appears City Hall is too. We need a clean break from career politicians who serve their own interests. The public’s trust is sacred. We need to change politics as usual.”

In his statement, Sam Yebri, a candidate for the Fifth District office in 2022, noted that Ridley-Thomas is the third city councilmember to face federal corruption charges within the last two years.

“Every Angeleno should be outraged by the news of these recent charges,” said Yebri. “The status quo is broken and toxic. It’s time for Angelenos to stand up, elect new leaders, and reject the corruption and nepotism that have allowed our great city to fall deeper and deeper into decline. We need leaders who will tackle our city’s growing problems, not enrich themselves and their families. We need fighters, not more insiders.”

Corruption scandals have plagued the City Council in recent years. In June 2020, former CD-14 Councilmember Jose Huizar was arrested on charges of bribery, extortion, money laundering, racketeering, and other charges. Federal prosecutors allege he led a “criminal enterprise,” soliciting bribes from developers seeking to build projects in his district and to enrich himself and his associates. In January of this year, in a related case, former LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander was sentenced to 14 months in prison for obstructing a federal investigation into his own corrupt practices.

On Tuesday, a group of supporters lined the driveway at City Hall, shouting “You stole our vote!” to councilmembers who came to work that morning. Rev. James Lawson, pastor emeritus of Holman United Methodist Church, joined in the protest.

“It’s a blatant form of racism,” said Lawson. “What they did, voting on Mark Ridley-Thomas’ suspension, represents why racism is so nefarious and wrong and so complicated. Yes, the nation does not understand its own racism, nor does the city council or the City Hall.”

Sweet Alice Harris, founder and executive director of Parents of Watts, also stood among the bus load of protestors.

“I live in the Watts area,” said Harris. “Brother Mark Ridley Thomas was there before he went to Crenshaw and that’s why I know how good he is.”

Harris said she believes in the work Ridley-Thomas did in her area while he was supervisor and said that if he wasn’t a good supervisor, his detractors wouldn’t be bothered with him.

“And one thing I know is God’s got his back,” Alice said. “They better be careful, when they mess with him. They better be careful.”

Some other local faith leaders are concerned that Ridley-Thomas’ council district will be left high and dry without leadership.

“A suspension from the City Council speaks volumes to the nation that he is guilty in the minds of those who lead the City of Los Angeles and that should not be the case,” said Pastor K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference Los Angeles and Southern California (BMC).

In the conference statement, they reiterated the fact that no wrongdoing has been proven.

“It is our deep concern over the motion to suspend Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas from his seat representing Council District 10. Councilman Ridley-Thomas has a history of integrity and working to educate and empower our communities,” said Tullos.

With a membership of over 300 Pastors and Ministers, the BMC is recognized as one of the largest minister’s conferences in the world and is viewed by many as the most powerful faith-based, minister-led organizations in California.

“We have to look at it,” said Pastor William Smart, president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC).  “I think there’s a lot more to it.”

Smart said that the Ridley-Thomas case is very different than those of the other two councilmen who lost their positions. He also questioned why the City Council rushed to vote on Ridley-Thomas’ suspension before his day in court.

“I think you have to dig deep,” he said, adding that he feels there is more to the story. “Why did the council, the president, want him out so quickly, when he’s in the middle of redistricting. There’s just a lot of things going on to get rid of Mark right now. We don’t know all the truth. I think there are other motives around this.”

Smart said it is important to note that Ridley-Thomas has been a servant to the community. First as president of the SCLC’s L.A. office, then as the eighth district councilman; then as a state assembly and senate member; all before becoming a county supervisor and now councilman of the tenth district.

“He’s one of us, part of the family,” said Smart, who lives in the tenth district. “No one can come in and do what he did, with all his experience.”