LA WATCHDOG - The October 2022 release of the secret recordings of conversations where three members of the City Council and the leader of the County Federation of Labor were caught making racist and other reprehensible remarks led to the creation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform. To date, its focus has been on the expansion of the size of the fifteen-member City Council and the establishment of an independent redistricting commission.
These two “reforms” do not increase the transparency and accountability of our City Council that is occupied by power-hungry career politicians whose main interest is their next election. We need real reform.
An important reform would be to follow up on the recommendations to strengthen the Ethics Commission through a ballot measure. This body is charged with being the watchdog over the City’s elected officials, candidates for office, political appointees, and lobbyists. Reforms would create a more independent body that is not overseen by the City Council whose members are subject to the Commission’s rules and regulations, has a guaranteed source of revenues to allow it to conduct vigorous oversight, and whose members are appointed for fixed terms (no undated letters of resignation) by independent third parties such as retired judges.
Another reform would be to place a measure on the ballot that would eliminate Section 245(e) of the City Charter. This provision allows the City Council to assert jurisdiction over decisions by the Planning Department on land use and planning issues and has been used by the likes of Jose Huizar in pay-to-play schemes to extort real estate developers for campaign contributions.
In May of 2020, David Ryu and Paul Koretz made such a motion, but it never saw the light of day thanks to then City Council President Nury Martinez.
Ryu and Koretz also proposed the establishment of an Office of Anti-Corruption and Transparency in response to the pay-to-play corruption. This independent organization would be “focused on land use, development and construction in the City of Los Angeles, tasked with identifying and preventing fraud, corruption, and misconduct, and with the authority to conduct investigations of all government entities, the ability to issue subpoenas, examine all city documents, contracts, and monetary expenditures, compel testimony from City employees and elected officials, and recommend administrative discipline and policy improvements.”
This motion died a slow death.
[The LA 2020 Commission also recommended the establishment of an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the budget and the finances of the City in real time. But this was another excellent idea that was deep-sixed by the Herb Wesson led City Council.]
A much-needed reform is to have open and transparent labor negotiations. According to a 2015 editorial in The Times, this would involve “public hearings at the beginning of negotiations to lay out the city's expectations and at the end to explain the tentative deal. The city should commission an independent analysis of the short- and long-term impacts. Lastly, the city should allow plenty of time for the public to ask questions and raise concerns before the City Council and mayor vote on final contracts.”
These recommendations for reform will increase transparency and accountability and will be the start of the long journey to restore Angelenos’ trust and confidence in our ethically challenged City Council. Expanding the City Council and establishing an independent redistricting are just a distraction.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: [email protected].)