OPEN LETTER - Dear Los Angeles City Council, Do Better. No, really… Just do better.
I, like many others by now, have read the articles in the Los Angeles Times regarding City Councilmember Nury Martinez’s racist and inappropriate statements that she made in front of fellow councilmembers, Gil Cedillo, Kevin De Leon and now former L.A. County Federation of Labor(LA County Fed) President Ron Herrera.
There is so much wrong with this situation that it deserves a lot of unpacking. First and foremost, a child was verbally attacked based on something he has no control of; his race. There is simply no pit, valley or ocean deep enough to describe how low on the human spectrum you have to be to make these kinds of statements.
To my former council colleague, Mike Bonin: whenever you approach the unenviable task of explaining this one day to your son, I might suggest the story of a police lieutenant promoted to captain, who found the “n-word” scribbled throughout his new city-issued vehicle. Now, the good news is that I survived that OK. The bad news is that the incident occurred in 1977. And, that means we still have a long way to go.
LA’s modern political history is nothing without diversity. It was a black and Jewish coalition that brought us a truly transformational, once-in-a-lifetime mayor in the form of Tom Bradley. And on a personal note, I, a black man, delivered the deciding vote to a one-time council president and now a U.S. Senator that I am very proud of, Mr. Alex Padilla. We cannot allow this one hiccup, no matter how devastating, to stop or push back the progress that we’ve made together as a city and as a government.
Just moments before writing this, I learned that Councilmember Martinez has decided to step down from her post as council president. That is a good start. I have some other ideas— a call to action, if you will— that you should take into account, while also considering that the future of this council and its relationship with our city’s residents rests solely in your hands.
I have served with some of you. And, it’s been fairly well documented that I, in a lot of instances, have not agreed with many of your positions. Upon leaving the city council in 2015, I declared that I had worked more closely with ethically-challenged people during my time on the city council than I had during my career at LAPD. That, unfortunately— based on all of the indicted councilmembers and city staff over the years— turned out to be true. I am now hoping that I’m at least partially wrong about the people with whom I served. And, I remain optimistic about the newcomers, despite the actions of your colleagues, which were revealed in the Times this past weekend.
After our city’s last shady redistricting process in 2011-2012 led directly to several indictments, including those of disgraced former Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander, how is it that members of this body are still, according to the audio recordings, ignoring the citizen’s commission recommendations and meeting in secret to carve up district lines as only they see fit? We just went through this. In fact, it was councilmember Martinez, herself, who pushed forth amendments that she said would, “improve the City of Los Angeles’ redistricting process and make it more accessible, transparent and fair to all Angelenos”.
Those types of mixed messages bring scorn from your constituents. It’s like when you all stand up for Pride Week, Black History Month, Latino Heritage Month, Indigenous People’s Day or whatever the occasion and boast about how much this council embraces diversity in culture and thought, only to moments later chastise and isolate the councilmembers who have thoughts on this city and lifestyles that are different from yours. For members with unique views, please know that I, too, dealt with this during my time on the council. I can only tell you to stick with it because winners write the history books. And, at this very moment, you are all reading what I have written. So, I guess that means something.
Another question that comes to mind is: Why was Herrera present at this backroom meeting? He has no official role in the redistricting process. His decision to act as a bystander, as the derogatory comments were made is no surprise. The leadership at the LA County Fed has at times set the low bar on morals. In recent years, one of their leaders was indicted shortly after taking the president’s job, and the guy who preceded him could only avoid indictment by dying from heart attack that he suffered at a house of ill repute. In the future, let’s remember that they are an organization that is often walking a legal tightrope. Your circumstances dictate that you must often negotiate with them, which means that, for the sake of the city, you should have serious reservations about cozying up to them or being bought by them.
These councilmembers handled the redistricting process in possible violation of the Brown Act and serial meeting laws, while knowing the very real legal ramifications that exist. That shows that they cannot be rehabilitated. And, we are way past attempts to gloss over their wrongdoing, accept apologies or allow mental lapses as a means to justify this despicable behavior.Simply put, all three councilmembers should resign. And, the 12 remaining members should make that demand and refuse to continue to work with them until they do so.
That being said, expecting people to go down with the ship that they, themselves helped sink is expecting far too much. We have seen this recently in the trials and tribulations of suspended Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas. He could put his self interests aside and make things easier on the people he represents by resigning, as he faces trial on bribery charges. In a perfect world, Ridley-Thomas, Martinez and DeLeon would step down(Cedillo, who lost his race earlier this year should immediately be replaced by Councilmember-Elect Eunisses Hernandez), and the city could put on just one special election for the three vacancies at a savings to taxpayers. But, the often self-absorbed Ridley-Thomas would rather try his luck against the testimony of his alleged co-conspirator and the federal government’s prosecutors, who convict at a rate of 99%. This, all for the benefit of saving face and serving the remainder of his term, which— when it all shakes out— would only be about one year. He would also rather sue the city for salary and benefits that he is ineligible to receive.
So, obviously, counting on these three folks you currently sit with on the horseshoe to do the right thing is not a sure thing. Maybe some advice from someone no longer in the building might present a fresh set of perspectives. Whether you follow these suggestions or not, you should know that proceeding in the same fashion you have been over recent years is a promise for only more failure. This matter deserves your immediate attention. This council is at a point of no return.
- Censure- With the resignation option not entirely realistic, City Council Rules offer the possibility for members of the body to censure their fellow councilmembers. Additional legal remedies could also be sought to isolate and reduce their influence and authority.
- Rotating Council President- Though the role of council president was handled capably for decades, it’s proven to be too big of a job for recent councils and recent council presidents to handle. Previous Council President Herb Wesson’s actions led to our ongoing federal corruption scandal. And, yes— as the courts have now shown us— it was an awful idea to ignore his expired term and bring him back. For that reason and now many new ones, Wesson’s handpicked replacement has also proven to be in over her head. By limiting the council president’s term to one term and selecting a new pro tem every two years with the plan to elevate him/her to the council presidency in the next two years, you’ll reduce the problems that can occur with council presidents who view themselves more as monarchs than equal members of the council.
- Don’t Get Distracted by Politics- It may be intriguing to gossip about who’s on the short list to be the next city council president. But, please take care of your obligations to the city first. You don’t want to be like a certain mayoral candidate, who’s already taking advantage of the situation by claiming to be offended by Councilmember Martinez’s remarks, all while apparently forgetting that he called a sitting U.S. Congresswoman a “bitch” 20 years ago in front of witnesses and still won’t address it to this day, instead calling it a “diversion”. Choose long-term accomplishments over gimmicky, short-term benefits. There is simply no reason to rush this decision. It bears mentioning that, in large part, this same council voted Martinez and Wesson into the seat as council president unanimously. And today, the same question remains just as it did during their brief candidacy for the job: What had either one of them done in their entire career to earn such a powerful position? Please take your time to answer that question, and take your time to fill this vacancy.
This is a serious time for serious people. We have a homeless issue of mass proportions and major budgetary concerns to confront. Issues like these require your full attention and will only fester if put on the back burner to deal with distractions.
To give you an example of how closely councilmembers must pay attention, I recently discovered that in the mid 2000’s, the LAPD not only instituted the “Stop and Frisk” Policy, it expanded it. And, apparently, few people outside of the department knew about it. Despite proof of this in the New York Daily News, the Times won’t touch it because of the newspaper’s relationship with a former chief. But, this, as well as the department’s misreporting of crime stats for eight years are exactly the types of issues a new and reinvigorated city council can explore once they’ve performed some much-needed house cleaning.
In closing, I would like to use a recent statement by Councilmember Paul Krekorian. In July, as Krekorian spoke to voters before the last election, he said, “Trust professionals. Trust people who know what the hell they’re doing, and even who have some idea of what the function of a city is. Please trust those people, and maybe we have an opportunity to save the city that we all love.”
Judging by the low turnout in our elections, our voters have given up trying to determine “who the hell knows what they’re doing” and opting for “who the hell won’t screw them”, “who the hell won’t end up in prison” or just asking themselves,“who the hell cares?” and refusing to vote. As you consider each of these recommendations or ones you come up with yourselves, your efforts won’t truly be genuine unless you acknowledge the roles that each of you played in bringing this body to this point.
The eyes and ears of the world are on each of you.
BERNARD C. PARKS
Los Angeles Police Chief(Ret.)
Los Angeles Councilmember(Ret.)