Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian had harsh words Monday for his colleague Kevin de León, telling the embattled council member in a letter that his continued presence on the legislative body was “causing actual ongoing harm” to the practical operation of the council.

Krekorian said he would not grant De León’s request to be temporarily excused from council meetings.

De León’s office did not respond when asked Monday afternoon about Krekorian’s letter.

The letter comes five days after De León vowed not to resign in the wake of an incendiary leaked audio recording in which city leaders made racist and derogatory comments about a number of groups.

Former Council President Nury Martinez and former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera resigned from their posts in the days after The Times first reported on the leak this month. But De León and Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who also participated, remain on the council, despite President Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom and virtually all of the local political establishment calling for them to go.

De León, who has repeatedly apologized for his participation in the conversation, sent a letter to Krekorian Wednesday asking to be excused from future council meetings so that he could “refocus my energy on meeting directly with those I represent to begin the process to help heal those that have been harmed.”

But Krekorian rejected this request, telling De León on Monday that there “is no path forward that includes your continued participation in this council.”

De León, 55, has two years left in his term to represent the 14th Council District, which includes downtown, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock and other neighborhoods.

In an interview Sunday with NBC 4’s Conan Nolan, De León reiterated his position that stepping down would leave his constituents with “no voice in City Hall.”

De León, who finished third in the June mayoral primary, launched his bid to lead the city less than a year after taking office on the council. Should he have won the mayor’s race, he would have had to step down in December, leaving his office vacant and probably necessitating a special election.

Despite the outrage, some in De León’s district described the scandal as overblown and said in interviews last week that De León shouldn’t step down.

But Krekorian saw no way forward for the beleaguered council member, writing in his letter that De León’s constituents “need to start fresh” and saying a special election would give them that opportunity.

Krekorian vowed that the council would schedule a special election immediately if De León resigns in order to “minimize disruption” and said he would “ensure that a caretaker provides essential constituent services to the people of the 14th District” in the interim.

There does not appear to be any legal mechanism for his fellow council members to remove De León, meaning short of him resigning, a successful recall election is likely the only way he would leave office early.

A provision in the City Charter deems a council office vacant when “the incumbent has been absent from the City without the consent of the Council for more than 60 consecutive days,” or when the incumbent “has ceased to discharge the duties of the office for 90 consecutive days, except when prevented by illness, injury, or other reasonable cause.”

City Clerk Holly Wolcott said Friday that that 60-day rule would apply only if someone was actually outside the boundaries of the city without approval, whereas the 90-day rule is interpreted to be about fulfilling the duties of office.

But even if De León remains absent from the council’s thrice-weekly meetings for months, it’s unlikely that the 90-day provision would apply.

“I think it is reasonable to assume that as long as a council member is fulfilling most aspects of their duty of office such as constituent services, they are considered at work regardless of whether they attend council meetings,” Wolcott told The Times in an email Friday.

Wolcott said she didn’t know of any applicable case law and noted that the section is “subject to interpretation and legal challenge.”

After a week of virtual meetings following a COVID-19 exposure, the council is set to return to its City Hall chambers Tuesday morning.

Pete Brown, a spokesperson for De León, said Monday evening that De León would not be attending council meetings this week.

Julia Wick

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