NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-Malfeasance at City Hall? No. Never in Los Angeles! Ah, but the use and abuse of power has as long a history here as elsewhere.
After conflicts of interest by the mayor in the 1980s, City voters approved Charter Amendment H in 1990, embodied as Sections 470, 471, and 700-712 of the City Charter, creating the Ethics Commission to oversee governmental ethics, campaign financing and lobbying in the City of Los Angeles. As part of the most comprehensive package of local governmental ethics in the country, the Commission’s goals are transparency, integrity, impartiality and accountability.
The mandate the electorate gave the Ethics Commission is to preserve the public trust by promoting elections and government decisions that are fair, transparent and accountable. . .to shape, administer, and enforce laws regarding governmental ethics, conflicts of interests, campaign financing and lobbying.
The Ethics Commission has the obligation to not only pursue wrongdoing, but also to ensure that convictions serve as a public deterrent to all who would break the laws and drain our tax dollars away from needed services.
Part of its directive is to educate City employees and vendors on what is appropriate and what constitutes a violation. The Commission also advises our elected officials, processes disclosure statements, audits, investigates, and provides the appropriate evidence to enforce regulations on a timely basis to provide strong deterrents to scofflaws.
But we the people of Los Angeles also need to educate ourselves so we can protect our own interests.
The Ethics website is a window to transparency in Los Angeles, a great source of information on all things ethics-related. It is also a door to accountability. The public can use it to watchdog as much as they want, and the Commission feels the best scenarios are when the public has the opportunity to examine public filings and raise questions. Whistleblowers can report online or call (800) 824-4825.
And it works: following the report of the largest penalty assessed in the Commission’s history, there has been a significant up-tick in calls requesting information and help. Furthermore, more and more people whose activities fall under the Commission’s purview are reaching out to the Ethics staff to determine what they can and can’t do, forestalling potential problems and saving them and the City money.
By escalating the reporting and publicizing of cases and penalties, the Commission is showing its commitment to protecting the interests of the people of Los Angeles as well as putting those who might emulate scofflaws on notice that malfeasance will not be tolerated.
The Commission needs to continue increasing its visibility in pursuing and publicizing verdicts against fraud committed by City employees and vendors so Angelenos know what to do when they encounter wrongdoing.
This includes matters referred to other law enforcement agencies, and for any proven pay-for-play relationships between developers and City Hall, as soon as such is feasible.
Furthermore, the City MUST hold Department managers personally responsible for reporting of potential infractions to the Ethics Commission and the City Attorney within 10 days as is currently required.
And, more importantly, immediately stop the practice in certain departments of allowing lawbreakers to resign or retire without consequences in an effort to avoid blowback on such departments. Those who break the law should never be allowed to draw City pensions, rewarding bad behavior--something that is abhorrent to most voters.
The public has less concern about the City’s image and more about what is right. And that image can only improve if the bad apples are consistently weeded out and punished. Every effort should be made to change the culture in the City government to one of looking the other way to one of being accountable to all Angelenos.
This is an opportunity for us to congratulate whistleblowers who are doing the right thing and let Angelenos know that the Commission is doing its job on their behalf. The Los Angeles stakeholders deserve fairness and accountability.
And it is up to each of us to do our part.
(This is part of a series about various Los Angeles City Departments based on interviews and research by the Budget Advocates in the fall of 2019.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.