Herb Wesson (Courtesy photo)

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to appoint former Councilman Herb Wesson to represent the city’s 10th district, as a replacement for Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was suspended after being indicted in a federal corruption case.

Wesson will hold the position through Dec. 31 unless Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or the charges against him are dropped.

“With over 30 years in public service representing the residents of Council District 10, there is no better choice at this time than former councilmember Herb Wesson,” Council President Nury Martinez said after announcing her motion to appoint Wesson on Wednesday.

“Mr. Wesson cares deeply about the communities he represents and  knows the district better than anyone. The constituents of Council District 10  need a voting member who understands their community to represent them within  Council Chambers.”

Wesson is termed out of seeking election to the City Council because the represented the 10th District from 2005 to December 2020. He also served as  the president of the council before Martinez, from 2012 to 2020.

Councilman Mike Bonin sought to delay the vote on the appointment  until after the City Council receives a detailed report on the full range of  available scenarios, including a public report from the city attorney on  eligibility requirements for potential appointments and a report from the city  attorney, city clerk and chief legislative analyst on steps, costs and legality  of holding a special election for Council District 10 residents to pick their  own temporary council member.

Bonin’s amendment to receive the reports was adopted by the council  Tuesday, however, an amendment to delay the vote by one week until after the  reports are received fell one vote short and was not adopted.  The vote to appoint Wesson as a temporary replacement was adopted  unanimously.

On Tuesday, several people called into the City Council meeting  pushing for Wesson to be appointed to represent the district, noting that  residents have not had a voting representative since Ridley-Thomas’ suspension  on Oct. 20.

A woman who identified herself as Lillian Wilson, “a stakeholder in  the district for 45-plus years,” urged the City Council to vote immediately to  appoint Wesson, saying “we’ve been without representation for four months and  we don’t want this to go on another six to 12 months, we need representation,  we need a vote at the table.”

Damien Goodmon, who is a board member for the Downtown Crenshaw Rising  project — a movement to buy the Crenshaw Mall and redevelop it for the  community — also called in to urge Wesson’s appointment, saying the district’s  lack of representation has impacted progress on major issues. He added that  Wesson’s appointment would “remain consistent with the precedent set by this  council when Mitch Englander stepped down and the previous council member was  put in Englander’s seat.”

Former Councilman Greig Smith, who represented Council District 12  from 2003 to 2011, represented the district again from January to August 2019  after Englander vacated the seat in December 2018 to take a job with the Oak  View Group, a global sports and entertainment advisory, development and investment company. Smith at the time was eligible for another term on the City  Council after opting to not run for a third term.

While some in the community have pushed for Wesson to be appointed to the seat, others have expressed their view that suspending Ridley-Thomas from  the City Council before a trial goes against the presumption of innocence until  proven guilty.

On Friday, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern  California filed a lawsuit aimed at getting Ridley-Thomas reinstated on the  City Council, alleging that “the decision to suspend (Ridley-Thomas)  contravenes the bedrock presumption of innocence guaranteed under California  law.” Ridley-Thomas was executive director of the organization’s Greater Los  Angeles chapter from 1981-1991.

Pastor William Smart, SCLC of Southern California’s president, told  City News Service Friday afternoon that his position is that Ridley-Thomas’  suspension was “morally wrong, politically indefensible and patently  illegal.”

“We will not accept an unelected being imposed on us as a community…we operate, as SCLC, in the 10th District and I live in the 10th District.  We believe that the councilman was ousted out and we want him to get his  position back,” he said. In a statement to City News Service last week, Ridley-Thomas’ attorney  Michael Proctor opposed the appointment of Wesson, calling it “premature”  and “anti-democratic.”

“Since day one, Mark Ridley-Thomas has pledged his commitment to  continue serving the constituents of District 10. The council president’s  `process’ has lacked transparency, inclusivity or input from the voters. Those  voters are thus being deprived of their first-order constitutional rights of  representation. Mark Ridley-Thomas’ concern is for those constituents — and an  appointed representative beholden to Nury Martinez does not resolve this denial  of representation.”

The 10th District has been overseen by caretaker Karly Katona, who does not have voting authority. The City Council’s vote to suspend Ridley-  Thomas passed with three council members in opposition: Councilman Marqueece  Harris-Dawson, Councilman Mike Bonin and Councilman Curren Price. Price said  before the vote that his office had been inundated with calls of support for  Ridley-Thomas from South L.A. residents.

The trial for Ridley-Thomas and former dean of the USC School of  Social Work Marilyn Flynn is tentatively set to begin Aug. 9. The defendants  are charged in a 20-count indictment alleging a secret deal whereby Ridley-  Thomas — when he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors — 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 allegedly arranged to funnel a $100,000 donation from Ridley-  Thomas’ campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by  his son, a former member of the Assembly. The donation prompted an  investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles that remains open,  prosecutors said.

In exchange, the indictment contends, Ridley-Thomas supported county  contracts involving the School of Social Work, including lucrative deals to  provide 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. Both defendants have strongly denied any wrongdoing and promised that  evidence will clear their names.