-L-ELECTION-HERMOSA

City council candidate Hany Fangary greets his supporters at an election night party at the Standing Room Restaurant in Hermosa Beach on Tuesday, November 7, 2017. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

City Councilman Hany Fangary's wife sued Hermosa Beach last week, arguing the city for which her husband serves committed a Brown Act violation when his council colleagues passed him up for the mayor pro tem position in November. 

Fangary, a lawyer by trade, and Hermosa Beach City Attorney Michael Jenkins on Thursday, Dec. 5, confirmed the lawsuit had been filed. Fangary is both at the center of the suit and acting as his wife’s counsel.

Fangary and and another attorney, Justin Ledden, appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday, Dec. 4, attempting to prevent a discussion from happening at a special City Council meeting later that night regarding the selection process for the panel’s leadership. They sought to move the discussion to a regular council meeting later this month instead.

Fangary’s attempt for a temporary restraining order was denied, he and Jenkins said.

"I’ve been in this business for 40 years,” Jenkins said, “and I’ve never seen a sitting city council member acting in his capacity as an attorney suing the city of which he is a council member.

"It raises a lot of interesting issues,” he added.

Fangary had been in line to become Hermosa Beach's mayor pro tem during what is typically a routine annual rotation of city leadership. The council chose among themselves to have Councilwoman Mary Campbell replace Stacey Armato as mayor during a special meeting Nov. 21. But the panel skipped over Fangary and named recently re-elected Councilman Justin Massey as second in the hierarchy.

That decision revealed deep divisions on the council, which stemmed from months of tension between Fangary and his colleagues, primarily over a communication breakdown Fangary had with City Manager Suja Lowenthal. Many of those divisions were laid bare at Wednesday's council meeting, with Fangary's colleagues venting their frustration.

The council, for example, discussed on Wednesday a March incident that apparently served as the final straw between Fangary and Lowenthal. The councilman was upset that he was denied access to park in the city employee lot during business hours. Lowenthal had notified him that council members could park in the lot up to one hour before and during meetings at City Hall.

"We all expressed concern about the way the exchange had been handled," Massey said during Wednesday's council meeting, "and the decision to cease communication with the city manager."

Fangary, for his part, said his request for access to the city parking lot was not a special perk but rather a matter of respect.

"I thought it was a little demeaning to the council members who are providing a public service," Fangary said. "It became clear to me that the direction things are going are directly contrary to why I ran for office which is transparency of public dialogue and discussions."

The dispute ultimately led to the city offering mediation to repair the relationship. But, Armato said Wednesday, Fangary didn't agree.

Fangary confirmed on Thursday his refusal to enter mediation. He said it felt as if the process would be a counseling session, though he would have favored a third party investigating the situation.

Either way, what followed was a series of tense interactions between Fangary and the rest of the city's top brass.

Two months ago, for example, Ledden filed eight public records requests on behalf of Fangary. Those requests, Massey said, were "targeted at errors he perceived were made by the city manager" and were meant to "undermine and intimidate the city manager." It cost the city thousands of dollars, Massey said.

"It all could have been avoided," he added, "by a little collegiality and respect."

Then, last month, Campbell sent out a press release in which she said Fangary had cut off communication with Lowenthal. Fangary, in a formal letter, demanded she retract her statements, pointing to roughly 100 emails he sent in recent months either directly to the city manager or with her copied on them.

"In addition to the emails, I clearly communicate with the city manager in open session," Fangary said on Wednesday. "I didn’t sense the dysfunctional dynamics people are referring to."

Then, in another conflict a few weeks ago, Fangary threatened to sue the city over another alleged Brown Act violation, arguing that selecting Armato to negotiate the city manager's potential raise should have been made in open session rather than behind closed doors.

The Brown Act, approved by the California legislature in 1953 and continually updated since then, guarantees the public's right to attend and participate in meetings of legislative bodies.

"There’s a pattern of those working with Fangary with ultra interpretations of the Brown Act," Massey said.

That all led up to Nov. 21, when the council passed Fangary over -- and his wife's lawsuit this week.

The lawsuit argues that Fangary's colleagues privately decided to skip him in the rotation for city leadership, hence violating the Brown Act. Fangary declined Thursday to comment on why his wife, Dina Fangary, filed the lawsuit or why he's representing her.

But Jenkins, for his part, argued the council's decision to pick Massey over Fangary did not violate the Brown Act.

Regardless, on Wednesday night -- after Fangary's attempt for a restraining order failed -- the council, in another special meeting, decided to redo the vote anyway. They rescinded the Nov. 21 action and voted a second time on the council's leadership.

The outcome was the same. Councilman Mike Detoy voted for Fangary, while the other three selected Massey.

Fangary said on Thursday morning that he's unsure what the council's follow-up vote means for his wife's lawsuit. He needed more time to determine whether the council's actions remedied the alleged violation, Fangary added.

"I feel like I've been called into the principal's office for misbehaving," Fangary said at the meeting.

Toward the end of the meeting, Armato expressed hope that whatever friction existed among the governing body could be put to rest, a sentiment shared by several others.

"My hope is this dispute is resolved as soon as possible," Armato said, "so that at the next mayor rotation you, Hany, are the one nominated for Mayor Pro Tem."

Fangary, meanwhile, maintained a stoic demeanor during the meeting and did not respond to his colleagues' allegations.

But he did say he was personally hurt by the whole thing. On Thursday morning, Fangary struggled at one point to say whether he would continue in the job. Earlier this year, he said, he considered resigning -- even though he has two more years to serve in his second term.

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