A proposal to discuss the possible suspension of City Treasurer David Cohn as an emergency agenda item Tuesday failed to attract the necessary two-thirds majority vote from the Hermosa Beach City Council and will instead be discussed at the Dec. 11 regular City Council meeting.
The emergency action item failed in a 3-2 vote with Councilman Howard Fishman and Mayor Jeff Duclos dissenting.
However, in the final minutes of the meeting, a motion by Mayor Pro Tem Kit Bobko to place the item on the Dec. 11 council agenda was approved. Bobko also asked that city staff present a plan should Cohn "become incapacitated."
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Michael DiVirgilio and Mayor Pro Tem Bobko sent a letter to City Manager Tom Bakaly asking that a resolution be placed on Tuesday’s agenda that would discuss suspending Cohn’s authority over the city’s assets until an investigation into an alleged extortion attempt is complete and an audit of city funds has been conducted.
Both Bobko and DiVirgilio argued that the recent alleged extortion attempt against Cohn has jeopardized his position as the city’s treasurer and the possibility of his suspension needed to be discussed immediately.
"This is a troubling matter that I think we should take control over while it is being investigated," Bobko told the council. "The reason for Mr. DiVirgilio and I authoring this letter is to make sure we are vigilant while this investigation is going on and that we keep a very sharp eye on the city's finances, the integrity of the City of Hermosa Beach as far as the public servants go... I think there is certainly reason for question right now."
After Bobko's failed attempt to get the item placed on Tuesday's agenda, DiVirgilio utilized his announcement time to argue that very little has been explained to the public regarding Cohn's incident and the safety of city funds.
"I felt like it was my sworn duty to do everything I needed to do to make sure our city's funds are safe... I am just not clear that our funds are protected," DiVirgilio said. "There are a number of missing details about what is taking place in the community and one individual in particular who is party responsible for the finances who is not saying a word and I am concerned about that."
City Manager Tom Bakaly assured DiVirgilio and the council that the city's funds are indeed safe and that Cohn does not have sole access to online banking or any of the city's checking accounts.
"Our funds are protected... The spending of any city funds would have to be approved my multiple people," Bakaly said. "We do have internal controls in place-- checks and balances to make sure that doesn't happen."
Bakaly also added that because the city is currently undergoing its annual audit, auditors have also been notified of the current situation involving Cohn.
"They are going to be doing additional testing specifically related to investments," Bakaly said, pointing out that investing the city's money is the treasurer's main purpose.
During open public comment, multiple community members also expressed concern over Cohn’s actions and called for the City Council to discuss the issue further.
"When you have a city official that uses such bad judgment, you have to wonder what other bad judgments he is using as well," said Hermosa Beach resident Judy Garland. "I heard (Cohn's story) on the John and Ken show... We have reached a new low... we are the brunt of the jokes."
Manny Sorrano echoed Garland's sentiments.
"It is funny up to a certain point and then it is not funny anymore when it comes to our finances," Sorrano said. "I think it should be looked at... Even though we all have our own personal lives, when it comes to the public, I don't think it should be taken lightly."
However, Hermosa Beach resident Ray Waters suggested Bobko and DiVirgilio's proposal amounted to bullying.
"I think these guys have been after our treasurer since he first got in here and I think they are using this as an excuse to further their own agendas," Waters told the council.
Two separate investigations involving Cohn are currently underway.
Cohn was the target of an alleged extortion attempt last week after a massage in his home went wrong, according to police.
Yuritsi Garcia, a female masseuse, and her boyfriend Gustavo Ceron allegedly tried to extort $6,000 from Cohn after police say Garcia stole Cohn's iPad when the treasurer cut the massage short.
However, Garcia recently told the Daily Breeze that Cohn allegedly assaulted her and asked for sex during the massage before she cut it short. Garcia said that Cohn gave her the iPad after he refused to pay for his massage, which Garcia said she did while topless.
The first investigation, handled by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, involves the alleged extortion attempt by Garcia. A second investigation led by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department is looking into allegations that Cohn assaulted Garcia.
Cohn was not present at Tuesday's meeting nor has he made any public comment since his ordeal. However, he is expected to give a treasurer's update at the Dec. 11 council meeting.