LA WATCHDOG--Our trust and confidence in the City’s elected officials and institutions has sunk to new lows as revelations about City Hall’s pay-to-play culture have been front page news ever since Councilman Jose Huizar’s offices and home were raided by the FBI in November.
The Times later revealed that the FBI had requested search warrants for Councilman Curren Price; Deron Williams, Chief of Staff to City Council President Herb Wesson; Ray Chan, a Deputy Mayor appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti; and Joel Jacinto, a Garcetti appointment to the Board of Public Works.
The Times also detailed how Mitch Englander and Curren Price have hit up companies to donate large, unreported sums to their favorite charities. But these pale in comparison to the $40 million raised by Garcetti for the Mayor’s Fund.
Fuel was added to the fire when it was disclosed that City Hall was infested with rats, fleas, and vermin, much to the amusement of the media.
We also have major concerns about the City’s unbalanced budget, its $1 billion a year Structural Deficit, the $10 billion deferred maintenance liability, and the $15 billion (and growing) unfunded pension liability.
The following ten recommendations are designed to limit the corrosive influence of campaign contributions and to increase transparency into the goings-on at City Hall.
- Enact the clean campaign finance laws proposed by Councilman David Ryu to restrict campaign contributions by value seeking real estate developers. This includes contributions to elected officials and behests to their favorite charities.
- Require all parties who have business with the City to file, in real time, all contributions to elected officials for the last five years. This includes money funneled to independent expenditure committees, behests to favorite charities (including those of city officials), lobbying expenditures, and any fund-raising activities.
- Require the Mayor and the City Council to disclose, in real time, the receipt of all contributions, and behests. Require the Mayor and City Council to disclose details about their office holder accounts and discretionary funds for the last five years.
- Require the Mayor, the City Council, and members of their staffs to disclose in real time all meetings with the public (including real estate developers and union officials) and the topics under consideration.
- Double the budget of the Ethic Department to $6 million and hire more experienced auditors. All elections must be audited within three to six months. Require the Mayor and City Council to file campaign reports with a month after the election.
- Appoint members of the Neighborhood Councils and local activists to the City Planning Commission and the Area Planning Commissions. Establish an office in the Planning Department to represent impacted neighborhoods, especially in those in Hollywood, DTLA, and Boyle Heights.
- Conduct open and transparent negotiations with the City’s labor unions. Personnel costs (salaries, benefits, pensions, post-retirement medical benefits, workmen’s compensation) are the City’s largest expenditure, totaling over $5 billion.
- Require the City’s labor unions to disclose, in real time, all contributions to elected officials and their favorite charities. This includes independent expenditures. Require unions to disclose in real time all meetings with city officials and the purpose and outcome of the meetings. Require City unions to file audited financial statements with the City.
- Establish a fully funded independent Office of Transparency and Accountability as was recommended by the LA 2020 Commission and endorsed by City Council President Herb Wesson. The OTA will review and analyze the City’s budget and finances and report back to the public. The OTA will review the City’s underfunded pension plans and make recommendations to eliminate the $15 billion unfunded pension liability within 20 years. Require the City to present its budget by January 10 of each year so that the OTA and Angelenos have adequate time to analyze and comment.
- Appoint qualified commissioners to the Board of Public Works who have organizational or engineering experience. Public Works is too important to be run by inexperienced commissioners. It is a complex organization with a fully loaded budget of $1.3 billion and over 5,000 positions and is responsible for the repair and maintenance of our streets, sidewalks, and urban forest.
These recommendations must be strictly enforced and accompanied by meaningful penalties, including perjury, that hold offenders personally responsible.
The City of Los Angeles is viewed as a corrupt organization, where pay-to-play is standard operating procedure and labor leaders dictate policy. By implementing these recommendations that will limit the corrosive impact of campaign contributions and expose the inner working of City Hall, the Mayor and the City Council have the opportunity to begin the long journey of restoring trust and confidence in City Hall.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)