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District Attorney to Review Accusations against Santa Monica Councilmember, Coalition Officials Say

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that O’Connor “wanted to fire (Elizabeth) Riel.” In none of the emails obtained by SMCLC does O’Connor state that she wants Riel fired.

September 10, 2015 -- County prosecutors will review allegations that Councilmember Pam O’Connor waged a secret battle to fire a newly hired communications director who had opposed her candidacy nearly a decade earlier, a Santa Monica activist group said.

Representatives of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) said they met with City officials this weekend to address the group’s allegations that O’Connor interfered last year with the hiring of Elizabeth Riel, who had been involved in an anti-O’Connor campaign in 2006.

The City Charter prohibits the City Council from interfering in hiring and firing matters, a job which is left to the City Manager.

“Ms. O’Connor should not have interfered in City hiring,” the group posted on its website, “our City manager should have protected, not fired, Ms. Riel, and our City staff should have tried to stop this debacle, rather than enable it. It was a complete breakdown in City government.”

The posting said the City Attorney has sent the complaint to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for review, which standard procedure for a criminal matter involving a City councilmember.

In addition, SMCLC said that City officials said they “will soon be taking steps to hire experienced, independent counsel to conduct an outside investigation into this matter and publicly report his/her findings.”

“We applaud City officials taking this issue seriously and for their early and quick first steps,” said the statement posted on the group’s website.

O’Connor has denied she exerted influence in the firing of Riel, and says she welcomes an investigation.

Riel went on to file suit against the City in Federal Court, and the City Council in July agreed to a $710,000 settlement. 

After launching its own investigation, the Coalition announced it had collected emails and other information that allegedly showed O’Connor “relentlessly” lobbied behind the scenes to pressure then City Attorney Rod Gould to fire Riel less than a month after she was hired.

O’Connor, who was mayor at the time, was allegedly upset because Riel had donated to a 2006 SMCLC mailer that attacked O’Connor for  being “willing to sell Santa Monica out to developers.”

SMCLC asked City officials and the City Council to look into the matter, and last week Mayor Kevin McKeown said they would do so.

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