I almost forgot former Councilman Joel Wachs’ proclamation that the Los Angeles City Council is “the best free theater in the city.”
Last week the scene was a one hour argument over what appeared to be a “mom and apple pie” motion by council members Bill Rosendahl, Eric Garcetti, and Paul Krekorian that called for the Council to adopt a rule that its ad hoc (temporary) committees would abide by the state’s open meetings law as does its permanent standing committees.
What could possibly go wrong?
The problem was the environment in which the motion was made.
You see Councilman Rosendahl also serves as the vice-chair of the new Ad Hoc Committee on the Proposed Downtown Stadium and Event Center.
The agenda for the last meeting was posted just 24 hours before the start of the meeting. That worked great for supporters of the proposed downtown stadium who knew about the meeting well in advance using insider information.
But it was a bum deal for everyone else who waited for the normal public posting of the agenda. One day isn’t a lot of time to make arrangements for child care, or time off from work in order to attend.
During the meeting committee members found out that the chair of the committee wanted to hold a secret, closed-door meeting afterwards. A member of the city negotiating team said they needed some guidance regarding sticking points that arose around the Environmental Impact Report.
Rosendahl objected to the closed-door meeting, stating that the public’s business should be done in public.
The deputy city attorney explained that ad hoc committees are exempt from the state law, the Brown Act, because they were just providing advice. And if they were to reach a conclusion in secret, the recommendations would have to be adopted by the full City Council. The chair dropped her closed-door session idea, and wouldn’t allow any public discussion of the issue.
If this had been a meeting of a standing committee, the agenda would have to include notice of the closed-door session. And it would have happened but for Rosendahl’s objections.
Rosendahl’s motion simply called for ad hoc committees to follow the same laws about notification and openness that apply by standing committees.
As soon as the City Council began discussing the motion, the wheels fell off the transparency wagon.
It was clear that this wasn’t a discussion about the Brown Act, but about a council member who has dared to ask questions about the proposed football stadium, and who has attempted to make public the backroom discussions and hidden reports around which the negotiations have been framed.
Most appropriate is the old Japanese proverb that “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
And hammer on Rosendahl is what some of them did.
It was a demonstration of the collective power of the City Council. Any member who dares to stray from plans that place the interests of the council members, or the influential few who support them, over the interests of the public, find themselves being attacked publicly and privately.
Joel Wachs was one of those who regularly found himself feeling the wrath of “The Club.”
During one redistricting effort, Wachs had 90% of his district taken from him. He essentially had to introduce himself to new constituents everywhere.
The most effective counterforce is public support for those who take controversial positions with which you agree. That means messages of appreciation to the supporters, and requests for reversal of stances to those who temporarily misplaced their priorities.
(Greg Nelson participated in the birth and development of the LA Neighborhood Council system and served as the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. He also served as Chief of Staff for former City Councilman Joel Wachs. Nelson now provides news and issues analysis to CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected] .) -cw
Vol 9 Issue 55
Pub: July 13, 2011