Three Resign Over Laib Ouster
In the wake of the #metoo movement—where women, and in some cases men, have alleged sexual harassment, rape, and other inappropriate behavior by high ranking politicians, the Hollywood elite and once esteemed members of the news media—a recent local allegation of impropriety has some community members calling foul.
Long time Los Feliz community leader and activist Chris Laib was asked to step down from his advisory roles with the city of Los Angeles, after an internal city investigation ruled December 8th he had acted inappropriately towards a female city staffer.
A surveillance video obtained by the Ledger December 22nd via California Public Records Act request shows Laib, 63, tapping Greek Theater staffer Adriana Smith on her backside with a plate at a breakfast meeting for the Greek Theater on November 21st.
Additionally, while the video does not include audio, the complaint filed is believed to have indicated Laib made a comment to Smith, reportedly, “You’re being naughty,” said jokingly in response to the staffer cutting in front of him in line, which the city ruled as inappropriate.
Laib has refuted he made such a comment, saying naughty is not a word in his vocabulary, even at this time of year when it is commonly associated with Santa Claus.
The complaint was made by Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commissioner Pilar Diaz, appointed to her position in 2016 by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
In what is known as a “third-party” complaint, Diaz attended the breakfast gathering, observed the interaction between Laib and Smith and reported it to Garcetti’s office.
Multiple requests seeking confirmation from the Mayor’s office and requests to interview both Diaz and Smith were not returned.
According to Laib, he was in the breakfast buffet line—consisting of pastries, fruit and coffee—at the Greek’s Hospitality Room, November 21st when Smith, whom he said he has known for two years, cut the line in front of him.
According to Laib he said, jokingly, something to the effect of, “Oh, no. Not today. I’m hungry,” and then, per Laib’s account, Smith went to hug him.
According to Laib, he had his hands full: one hand held utensils and the other a plastic plate and when he and Smith embraced, the plate in one of his hands either tapped her hip or backside.
However, no such hug appeared in the 20-second video clip of the incident provided to the Ledger.
A week later, Laib received a phone call from Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu’s office suggesting he resign from various voluntary positions with the city, or else be faced with a humiliating public investigation.
Laib, who said he was shocked when he received the call, initially did resign from the Greek Theater Advisory Committee, but a day later rescinded the resignation when he learned Recreation and Parks General Manager Mike Shull additionally wanted him off all boards related to Griffith Park, including the Griffith Park Advisory Board, on which Laib has served for two years, and Friends of the Griffith Observatory, known as FOTO, on which he has served for 15 years.
“I said, ‘That’s not going to happen. This is a persecution. I am being punished unduly,” Laib said.
According to multiple sources, two human resources staffers from the city’s Dept. of Recreation and Parks eventually interviewed Laib as part of an investigation into the complaint, on November 30th, but only after he was asked to step down.
The city, it was recently reported, does not have a clearinghouse for harassment claims. Such concerns are typically handled internally by each of the city’s 41 departments.
Ultimately, the internal investigation concluded that Laib had acted inappropriately based on “complaints from third parties,” as well the video surveillance tape.
The quickly moving events around Laib spurred all three officers on the seven-member park advisory board to resign in protest, saying Laib was being politically targeted, the allegation was overreach and that their colleague was not given due process to speak to the allegation prior to being asked to step down.
Even with the investigation now concluded, many of Laib’s peers on the park advisory board, who each complained of previous dissatisfaction stating they have often felt ignored by city officials, said they would not change their minds about their respective resignations. They also said they fear Laib, by way of the advisory groups, has been targeted due to the groups’ stances, such as pushing back against a motocross racing event originally planned for Griffith Park for the 2024–now 2028–Olympics, but which has since been scrapped. Current city code indicates such racing is illegal in Griffith Park.
“This was the last straw,” said Kris Sullivan, one of the resignees. “Obviously this is a microcosm of what is going on nationally, but that does not mean we have to stop thinking. … There is no common sense here.”
Another boardmember who also resigned, Don Seligman, agreed, calling the turn of events surrealistic, unjustified and a “travesty of logic and due process.”
“I feel highly threatened. If a third party can accuse someone of sex harassment at an official Recreation and Parks event, then every one of us is vulnerable. I am not willing to take that risk. I don’t want to put in a position of being accused by anyone of anything for any reason, and I am not willing to volunteer my time to an organization that can let that happen,” said Seligman.
Some have said they feel the call for Laib’s removal was political, citing his recent request the city hold a public meeting, set now for December 14th, on the recently initiated process of having venue managers bid for a new Greek Theater contract.
Before Laib’s request for such a public meeting, the city had none scheduled.
“I am alternately appalled and horrified at what is going on,” said Griffith Park Advisory Board President Susan Swan who also resigned over the weekend.
“Chris is a valued member of our community and in his volunteer service. . . . He has always strongly demanded full public participation in the decision making processes that take place out of public view by our city departments, in this case, the Department of Recreation and Parks,” she said.
In 2015, Laib was an outspoken member of the community when the city sought bids for a manager of the Greek, when the contract for Nederlander, who had managed the Greek since the 1970s, was ready to expire.
The city initially decided to turn control of the Greek over to Live Nation, but after significant public outcry, ultimately opted to manage the iconic venue itself—hiring an outside venue management company, Atlanta, GA based SMG, to assist.
SMG’s current contract managing the Greek is up September 2018, which is why a new request for proposals was released by the city in early November.
Some have recently feared Live Nation would again attempt to win the city’s bid for managing the Greek. Until recently, Live Nation had been in talks to possibly purchase SMG, but opted not to.
However, according to Recreation and Parks’ Shull, Live Nation, is precluded from bidding on the Greek contract due to restrictions set forth by the city that only venue managers could apply, not organizations that promote concerts.
“It is absurd that people are saying,” the harassment complaint against Laib, or his being asked to step down, has anything to do with issues involving the Greek’s management. “We received a complaint and we [investigated it] as we should. . . . We take things like this seriously.”
According to Shull, who released what’s called an Request for Proposals—or RFP— regarding the future management of the Greek in early November, he had not initially planned for a public meeting on the document, because he felt it was not needed.
“Everyone’s opinion matters,” said Shull. “I have made this department as transparent and open as I can possibly make it.” But he added perhaps he made a mistake in not calling for this particular meeting.
“Maybe I should have done that,” Shull said. “But we’ve had two very good years on [the city operating the Greek] and we’ve had really great public relations. To me, [today’s situation] is not the same as the last time.”
Regarding the complaint, it is believed the request to remove Laib came directly from Garcetti, who appointed Laib to his post with the Greek advisory board in January of 2017.
City officials say Garcetti has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to harassment—sexual or otherwise—and that his office acted swiftly in this matter.
Garcetti’s staff, again, did not respond to multiple requests for clarification on the Laib matter or if, indeed, Garcetti has such a “zero tolerance” policy.
According to USC Law Professor Stephen Rich, “third party complaints,” such as Diaz’s are not uncommon and in fact are encouraged and potentially “more durable,” than an alleged victim’s complaint, as an alleged victim may be too distraught to file such a complaint or may be from a socially disadvantaged group.
However, Rich wondered, if Laib had been a woman, would the commissioner have made the complaint?
Additionally Rich indicated based on his knowledge of the incident, without having seen the surveillance footage, that a “reasonable person would not have thought of this as harassment,” and questioned why the city reacted to the incident the way it did.
“Women’s voices are being heard but we have to think about the limits to that or how anti-harassment might be misused. . . . or, did the city respond in this political moment because it is so allergic to allegations of sexual harassment it just wanted to take a stand?”
City officials did not respond to a request regarding whether there had ever been previous complaints lodged against Laib, or if Diaz and Smith had ever filed harassment complaints before, either as citizens or in their respective city roles.
“This is the first time I have ever been accused of anything,” said Laib. “I am very disappointed. This has put a chill on many of us.”
Laib, who is gay and has been in a long-term relationship for decades, said he feared the incident would tarnish his reputation forever, as his name would be swept up with those like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and others.
“There are men dragging women into bathroom stalls and exposing themselves, which is reprehensible,” said Laib. “So every time I go to the grocery store or the park or take a run … I don’t want to spend the rest of my life seeing people whisper, ‘That’s the guy,’ and assume I did something like Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein.”
Laib has served for decades on multiple volunteer city advisory and private board boards including the Greek Theater board, the Griffith Park advisory board, the Los Feliz Improvement Assoc. and Friends of the Observatory.
The Los Feliz Ledger requested December 9th a copy of the video surveillance of the issue through the California Public Records Act. A response on that request is due legally by December 19, 2017.