OPINION | Chelsea, Wetherly and the appearance of impropriety

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Last month, WEHOonline printed a story about a local resident raising the issue of a possible ethical conflict for Councilmember Chelsea Byers.

A proposed affordable housing project by the West Hollywood Housing Corporation on Wetherly Drive is on an upcoming council meeting agenda later this month. The question for Councilmember Byers is whether she has an ethical obligation to recuse herself from the decision-making that evening. Based on what I have been told – she does.

Here are the facts as presented to me. If the facts are erroneous, I would invite the Councilmember to dispute them and explain her reasoning for participation in the decision. The proposed project is represented by developer lobbyist Jeff Seymour. Jeff Seymour employs or employed Austin Cyr, who has had some participation in the project. Austin Cyr is the partner/boyfriend of Councilmember Chelsea Byers. Allegedly, Chelsea Byers has advocated for other projects represented by Jeff Seymour – not as a paid employee – but at the request of her partner/boyfriend Austin Cyr and/or Jeff Seymour to support those projects that Seymour represents. This occurred prior to her election to the city council in November 2022.

There are legal conflicts of interest and ethical conflicts of interest that may exist for any decision-maker. Chelsea Byers is a renter who lives on Wetherly Drive – the street where the development is proposed. If she were a homeowner or condo owner on that block, she would have a financial interest in the outcome of the project and thus a legal conflict under AB 1234. She would have to recuse herself since she lives within 500 feet of the project. However, she is a renter and as such – has no financial interest/incentive in the outcome of the project. But this is not the legal issue.

 

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A post shared by Chelsea Lee Byers (@chelsealeebee)

 

The City of West Hollywood has adopted a Code of Conduct for all councilmembers, commissioners, and advisory board members. Here is what it says under Rule 5.2:

5.2. Officials shall exercise best efforts to avoid the appearance of impropriety in the performance of their official duties. The public’s confidence in the integrity and fairness of City government often hinges on the behavior of City officials. Real or perceived ethical lapses by City officials undermine the effectiveness of the City and cast a shadow on the decisions of its legislative bodies. Often, ethical considerations extend beyond the legal requirements of conflict of interest law.

Does Chelsea Byers have a legal conflict of interest? No. She does not because she is a renter. But as explained in the rule, ethical considerations extend beyond the legal requirements of conflict of interest law. Does she need to avoid the appearance of impropriety to avoid casting a shadow on the decision-making on the Wetherly Project? If the facts are true – then yes, she does.

If it’s true that she is in a relationship with Austin Cyr, who worked for the developer lobbyist Jeff Seymour as a paid employee, consultant, or advisor – it just looks really bad that she is sharing a bed with a person who is working on this project. If it is also true that she advocated for Seymour projects in the past as an employee, advisor, or just voluntarily as a public speaker – then it looks really bad that she did those things while dating Austin Cyr or because Jeff Seymour asked her to do so. It doesn’t matter whether she was paid or not. What matters is that she helped lobby on development projects out of loyalty to her boyfriend Austin Cyr or friend Jeff Seymour. Now, are we to believe that she can make a decision on a project independent of those relationships? I think not. She is still dating Austin Cyr. It would look really bad if Chelsea votes to approve a project that her boyfriend works or worked for the project lobbyist. Not to mention her own advocacy at the request of the lobbyist Jeff Seymour.

The City Attorney will advise Councilmember Byers that she does not have a LEGAL conflict of interest. But as for the APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY – that is a decision that Chelsea has to make on her own. I guess the question for the councilmember is, do you want the decision to move forward without even the hint of inappropriate relationships and influence? Or do you want the project to move forward with the neighbors on your block thinking that you may have voted for the project based on “pillow talk” with Austin Cyr? It doesn’t seem like a close call to me. If my domestic partner/spouse/boyfriend was being paid to work on a project – how could I possibly divorce myself from the reality that I would have to face him when I got home after the vote? If I vote against the project – how does that affect my relationship? If I vote for the project, people will think it was because of the relationship with him. It would be best for me to recuse myself to avoid the APPEARANCE of impropriety. Maybe it could all be done without any improper motive. I suppose that is possible. But it would not be done without the APPEARANCE of shenanigans and favoritism for a project.

First big test for Chelsea. We shall see…

John Duran is a former councilmember in West Hollywood for 20 years, from 2001 to 2020.

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About John Duran
John Duran, a criminal defense lawyer, served on the West Hollywood City Council for 20 years, 2001-2020.

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Oh naur
Oh naur
3 months ago

Isn’t John Duran the one who allegedly took millions from developers during his time in office?

West
4 months ago

Duran is likely the worst person to make any argument for ethics in City Hall, but the fact remains Byers ought to know better.

Morty
Morty
4 months ago

John… You had plenty of your own ethics issues while serving on the council. You are probably not the right person to write this article. That being said Chelsea Byers is incompetent and she should recuse simply because it’s the right thing to do given her relationship with Austin Cyr. She comes off as a very untrustworthy individual. I look forward to working with others in WEHO to make sure she never is elected again to the city council. We need educated and qualified people to run the city and right now it’s in the hands of some very incompetent… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
4 months ago

This is not an intellectually or morally challenging issue. If her live-in partner/significant other was a paid to work on the project by the developer’s consultant, she should recuse herself, just because she has an obvious conflict, the law not withstanding. Call my cynical, but I don’t think Mr. Cyr would have been hired but for his relationship with Byers. But I think the right thing to do, the gracious thing to do, would be for Byers to recuse herself. Her credibility, as well as the public’s faith in the process, will be enhanced if she simply takes herself out… Read more »

Singleguywh
Singleguywh
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

…and don’t forget about Jeff Seymour interviewing and recommending our new Director of Community Development.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
4 months ago

What could Chelsea and her “boyfriend” possibly see in each other?

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
4 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

As my grandmother said, “there is a lid for every pot”. I saw them at Ruth Williams Memorial Service and thought they were a cute couple.

Clarence Thomas's Clerks
Clarence Thomas's Clerks
4 months ago

Definitely worth a read to ascertain the philosophies uniting many on the Supreme Court with a spotlight on Justice Clarence Thomas’s law clerks. Especially noteworthy the Reader Comments on this article.

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/24/us/clarence-thomas-supreme-court-clerks.html#commentsContainer

Nostalgic
Nostalgic
4 months ago

Can we make Weho queer again?

Shame On Us
Shame On Us
4 months ago

Arntcha glad we traded in John Duran for this mess? Ah told ya!

Bastian
Bastian
4 months ago

We know she’s going to vote yes on this project.

But let’s play devil’s advocate, that she’s not in bed with the lobbyists employee or friends with the lobbyist or wasn’t put into office by labor unions who will benefit from construction. But she’s just a single individual, with no developer ties, no union ties, who rents an apartment on a little alley, probably with rent control so doesn’t want to move, and is about to experience years of construction noise, dust, traffic, loss of parking. Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest as well?

John Arnold
John Arnold
4 months ago

She will be West Hollywood’s mayor in 12 months from now.

Eric
Eric
4 months ago

She is toxic will go down as the worst council member in Weho history,

Joshua88
Joshua88
4 months ago
Reply to  Eric

One man’s opinion.

JF1
JF1
4 months ago
Reply to  Eric

I think Shyne is the worst in WeHo history but Byers a close second (Erickson, third).

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
4 months ago
Reply to  JF1

Ms. Byers has really only been around a year; maybe she will surpass Shyne. But given WeHo’s 39 year history, history will tell.
People in this town have a pretty high tolerance for conflicts of interest, pay for play politics, abuse of City credit cards as well as incompetence as long as they happen to like a Council member. We have also seen people grow in office. We can only hope.

Eric
Eric
4 months ago
Reply to  JF1

Erickson deserves to be voted out this year, solely for endorsing and helping Byers get elected.

JF1
JF1
4 months ago

**Without a doubt she SHOULD recuse herself!**

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