Sat, Feb

The Tragedy of Two Charter Changes

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The City Clerk serves as the Clerk of the City Council and maintains a record of all Council proceedings, maintains the official City records and archives, administers all City elections, provides fiscal, administrative, and personnel services to the City Council and Mayor, and provides staff assistance to City Council Committees. 

The mission of the Office of the City Clerk starts off saying it is to “facilitate and support City legislative processes and meetings, record and provide access to the City's official records, preserve the City's history, support economic development. . .” and concludes “and conduct elections with integrity.” 

Yes, the City Clerk used to run municipal and LAUSD schoolboard elections for Los Angeles until those functions were removed under Charter Amendments 1 and 2 and consolidated with the California State elections as conducted by the County. 

But not now, although it still facilitates Neighborhood Council elections. 

The costs 

The fiscal year 2019-2020 budget for the City Clerk’s office was approximately $16.6 million, a

 27% increase over its 2018-2019 budget. 

Taxpayers may want to ask why, given that divesting itself of the City elections was supposed to save money as well as increase turnout. 

The divestiture had other costs. It allowed the Mayor and a number of the City Councilmembers to remain in office for an additional year and a half, collecting salaries that would give each of them significantly higher retirement benefits, higher benefits that the City would have to continue to pay out over many years. 

Disgraced José Huizar and City Council President Herb Wesson stood to make about $500,000 each in extra pay and benefits for the additional months in office, as reported at the time. 

Most importantly, it pushed aspiring candidates for municipal positions into direct competition with all the State and Federal offices as well as the often-obscenely overfunded Propositions. 

A direct result is that the change makes any attempt to run for election both more expensive, due to the cost of advertising in a competitive market, and more difficult since the news media tends to focus on the high-profile candidates to generate their eyeball quotas. 

This can discourage little-known Angelenos with important qualifications for city governance from running. 

And the matching funds program, while commendable in its attempt to support grassroots candidates, is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed. 

A far more sinister result is that, without major news coverage of local candidates, the playing board is heavily tilted in favor of the incumbent. And both challengers and incumbents increasingly dependent on outside funding to compete, putting them in the debt of those interest groups – developers, public sector unions, frackers, et al – who fund their campaigns. 

Not only does this increase the impact of lobbyists from those groups, it gives the individuals who stand to benefit direct access to our elected officials in social situations where ear-bending is the name of the game. 

And when these elected officials only hear one side of the story and repeatedly hear slurs against opposing positions, it is very difficult for anyone, let alone an elected official -- dependent on funding for their next election run -- to make unbiased recommendations. 

Furthermore, since revelation of wrongdoing is distinctly not in the best interests of any elected official with something to hide or their behind-the-scenes partners, they will continue to quash expanding the powers of the Ethics Commission, continue to meet behind closed doors, and continue to do the backroom deals that have cost the City so much money. 

The whirlpool of corruption surrounding José Huizar and others is not the first time the Feds have had to intervene to clean up our City. Can we make it be the last? 

If so, how?


(Liz Amsden is a member of the Budget Advocates, an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.