As Councilman Tom LaBonge looked down at the comment cards for item 15 on March 23, he may have felt a sense of dread creeping in.
He read the names out loud: "Arnold Sachs, John Walsh, and Mr. ... Bonge? Is there a person Bonge here?"
Some jokester, no doubt. After that came Zuma Dogg. Another gadfly. They were all gadflies.
"Today's item on the agenda," droned Arnold Sachs, a stickler for procedure, "only mentions the downtown stadium and the event center. What about the new [convention center] hall? What's going on?"
"Point of order," said John Walsh, speaking next, his arms waving about like some mad conductor. "You just voted unanimously on 12 and 13. Garcetti wasn't at his desk! Is one and one three now? Mr. Clerk!"
"Mr. President," interjected the city clerk, "he's not talking about this item."
"Please talk to the issue," LaBonge admonished.
"Don't worry, you'll keep your job," Walsh spat at the clerk. "Hollywood highlands dot org ...," he said, plugging his blog and website.
"Mr. Walsh, thank you."
"I've got three more seconds left!"
"Hollywood highlands dot org. You're garbage!" retorted Walsh, surrendering the podium.
"Thank you," LaBonge said. "Mr. Bonge was next, then Mr. Dogg."
Matt Dowd, an aging hippie from New Zealand, ambled up and corrected: "The name's La Bong," drawing a few chuckles.
After Dowd came co-conspirator Zuma Dogg (né David Saltsburg), dressed in his trademark black shirt and black knit hat reading "Zuma Dogg."
"In case you're just tuning in on a channel surf, my name's Zuma Dogg, legendary, historic, political icon, voice of the people, prophet. Also mayoral candidate. When the city cannot provide services, cannot provide fire statistics, they're getting sued over cracks in the sidewalk, now we want to spend $100,000, not for anything ..."
Dogg, though overcaffeinated, managed to string together a number of issues vexing the City Council. When time ran out, the city's Channel 35 cameras cut away to Richard Hopp, waiting in the empty Van Nuys Council Chambers, where Valleyites attend City Hall meetings vicariously.
Just then, Dogg interjected a bizarre trumpet sound, distorting the audio equipment. "Sergeant," LaBonge said, "please inform the speaker not to yell like that and break the equipment."
"How dare you talk to me like that?" said Hopp in Van Nuys.
"Richard, I'm not talking to you ...," LaBonge said despondently.
"Excuse me!" Hopp shouted. "I'm speaking now! How dare you! Behave yourself!"
This interaction between politicians and gadflies can be seen thrice weekly — more if you count the Board of Supervisors, LAUSD board and Metro board.
In a new twist this week, a gadfly made headlines after he retorted "Heil Hitler!" to Councilman LaBonge, and in response to that, Councilman Paul Koretz jumped in to dramatically claim he wanted to "clock" the gadfly.
The incident was widely misreported. It's fairly clear that LaBonge illegally stopped the gadfly, Michael Carreon, from citing out loud the individual names of City Council members whom Carreon was upset with for ignoring the testimony of a firefighter from United Firefighters of Los Angeles regarding devastating budget cuts by the City Council. In fact, politicians cannot quell such speech.
Carreon was saying into the microphone: "I sit here as the [United Firefighters of Los Angeles] fireman speaks, and Mr. Parks is in a book, Ms. Perry is not paying attention, Mr. Zine is having a conversation, Mr. Cardenas is talking to his staff —" when Councilman LaBonge suddenly shut Carreon's microphone down, accusing him of breaking "the rules" by not speaking directly to LaBonge.
Carreon furiously replied: "Maybe the chair should learn what the responsibilities and obligations are to sit on that chair! ... The nerve of you! ... The city is going to hell in a hand-basket and you're gonna sit up there and dictate! ... I guess I'll just salute you: Heil Hitler!"
Paul Koretz then jumped in, saying Carreon had been inappropriate and asking LaBonge to do something. LaBonge then dragged in a lawyer from the City Attorney's Office, demanding a legal "ruling" on whether he could do anything about Carreon's comment.
Koretz went on to decry Nazi Germany and say he wanted to "clock" Carreon for his Hitler retort to LaBonge. Then gay City Councilman Bill Rosendahl jumped in to say that gays were also victims of the Nazis — and that Carreon had made "an outrageous statement" as well as an "immoral" one.
Carreon's point, that the City Council slashed the Los Angeles Fire Department budget and now City Council members were ignoring testimony about specific examples of unsafe situations caused by those cuts, got lost in media coverage of this incident.
The 1953 Ralph M. Brown Act mandates that elected officials conduct business in public, and that the public has a right to be heard. "If I lived in New York City," says Walsh, who's from New York, "I would never get within a block of the mayor. The public sits there with their thumb up their ass."