GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE--Those of us who happened to have been scouring the cluttered bulletin board in the corridor near the John Ferraro Chambers at City Hall this week, may have been surprised to come across, wedged behind a FilmLA permit, a document entitled, “Notice Of Intention To Amend The Conflict of Interests Code of The City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.”
Back at our computers, later in the day, our sense of surprise may have been confirmed by the fact that this Notice is nowhere to be found on the Ethic's Commission website -- despite the document's self-evident importance. Not good, but let's cut the commission a bit of slack. When we learned, however, that the only way to get a copy of the proposed amendments is to go down in person to the Ethics Commission office on the 24th floor of City Hall, things began to get a little stickier. Stickier still is the fact that no public hearing will be held unless requested by a member of the public.
Now, a cynical resident might take exception to the Ethics Commission, precisely the government entity tasked with ensuring transparency, proceeding in such an opaque fashion. It is fair to say that the sum total of none is likely to come across the kind of unorthodox, hard copy notice provided by the commission staff for its proposed policy overhaul.
Such a cynical person might even say that the goal of the commission's unique manner of posting is to reduce, rather than foster, public participation in civic discourse. As for me, one might expect that I would be the first to arrive at such conclusions, given that my good faith public record act request made on September 3, 2015 (regarding the kind of suspicious five dollar matching fund donations made to Nury Martinez’ campaign that are currently being investigated by the FBI) wasn't fulfilled until October 8, 2015 -- and only then after a Kafkaesque, degrading effort at securing compliance. But in my opinion, such cynical views of the Commission's behavior are misguided.
As important as transparency and responsiveness are to an organization like the Ethics Commission, there are values that seem to be of greater importance to it. For example, their desire to ensure a restful and pleasant lunch has, admirably, long been fostered; it is the only City Office that, as part of its official policy, closes from 12 noon to 1 p.m. daily. You may object, and ask why, with more than 20 staffers on the payroll in that office, they cannot rotate their lunch breaks in accordance with the work hours of virtually every organization in North America, thus allowing regular city residents to go to their office and with any luck, catch a glimpse of their breathtaking skyline views, framed by enormous, magnificent windows? Again, these doubts and questions are understandable but still miss the mark.
But then you protest again, asking why, given the lunch hour opportunities to recharge their batteries, the Commission members met only four times in 2015? (The average number of meetings annually over the last several years was at least eight.) And incidentally, why is it the Commission now meets on Tuesdays, going head to head with the two biggest meetings of the week -- the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors?
And finally, I beseech your patience, dear reader -- although at this point I can't remember why – to join me in asking why Ethics Commission can’t get off its you-know-what and start doing its job? Perhaps, alternatively, it could extend its lunchtime to the remaining 35 hours of the work week. In that way, another outfit of comparable framework and mission could actually do a job worthy of the great city of Los Angeles.
(Eric Preven is a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government. He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.