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LA City Controller Race - Moving Ahead vs. Down and Dirty!

THE EASTSIDER - My Interview with Kenneth Mejia: I can see why the Times endorsed Kenneth. 

He is young at 31 and represents a new generation of people technologically literate in ways most of us have a hard time understanding. And his proposed use of that technology is what makes his campaign unique. 

First, instead of simply doing audits where we have to file a California Public Records Act case to even see the data, he intends to implement a database for the Controller which is accessible, easy to use, and simple to understand.  By you and me. 

The idea is that you and I should be able to simply go to the Controller’s website, choose the audit, and access the database. Seriously cool, and Kenneth says he’s got the database ready to go. 

The second issue he talked about is that a Controller should logically audit the Departments who account for the biggest part of the LA City Budget.  That means the Fire Department and the Police Department.  WOW!  Makes perfect sense, and no wonder the City establishment is in a panic over the idea that he can win. 

The third rail of his proposed actions is that there should be a way to hold the bureaucracies feet to the fire.  So when an Audit is complete, and there are recommendations, a tracking system should attach to the data so that we can all see whether or not the recommendations are actually implemented.  Accessible by the public. 

Finally, he has the temerity to think the Controller should audit the City’s public web sites for utility and accessibility. Anybody want to make a bet how many of them would get an F? 

To make all this work, he wants to provide financial education for the public, teaching them exactly how to use the database.  This will involve weekly classes, multilingual (7 languages to start), and offered via Zoom. 

I’m jazzed, and I think the Times got it in one! 

Mejia Takes A Hit

After winning the LA Times endorsement for Controller, Mejia was suddenly, seriously, in the front of our race for LA City Controller. Immediately, of course, his establishment adversaries went all pious and got MSN to front a hit job. 

“Now, as a candidate for city controller in the June 7 election, Mejia is on the receiving end of attacks from his rivals over his political messages. One of his opponents called Thursday for Mejia to drop out, saying those social media posts make him unworthy of public office. Two others said they showed poor judgment.

"We need to restore the public’s trust in their elected officials," said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer and a candidate in the controller race. "And we can’t do that by being a Twitter bully making shameful and incendiary comments.” 

Note the only one that wanted to be publicly identified was Wilcox, running against Mejia, and currently “a spokesman for City Atty Mike Feuer”.  To a cynical old political follower like me it simply proves that Mejia has been slimed by the candidates with less vision and for sure less technical ability. 

The real question is still whether or not he is the best qualified to become Controller for the City of Los Angeles, not his opinions of Joe Biden. So... 

Kenneth Mejia the Candidate

Speaking of the LA Times endorsement, here’s a teaser.  You can find the full article here.

The race for Los Angeles city controller has drawn a competitive field of City Hall insiders and newcomers. For this job, government outsider Kenneth Mejia is particularly impressive because the 31-year-old certified public accountant and auditor has used his campaign to demonstrate the kind of transparency-and-data-driven controller he would be — and that’s why The Times is endorsing him.

Over the last year and a half, Mejia has filed an array of California Public Records Act requests for city data, including all Los Angeles Police Department traffic stops in 2021, locations where multiple parking tickets have been issued and a list of affordable units in mixed-income housing developments. With the help of a tech-savvy campaign aide, he used the giant data sets to create maps that give Angelenos easy-to-understand, relevant information.    

and 

And because he’s not part of the established power structure, we think Mejia is most likely to have the political courage to call out other city elected officials. He understands the challenges of the job, and the need to rally those inside and outside City Hall for change. He’s active in progressive causes and tenants’ rights groups, but he’s also clear that the role of the controller is to provide financial transparency without regard to politics or ideology. 

The Competition

I’m not going to cover all the other candidates in this field, since it seems to me that they mostly represent the same old political orthodoxy and background in City Hall. For example, Stephanie Clements proudly states:

“ She’s been in the Los Angeles city government for over 25 years, serving five departments, including the Community Development Department, providing Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to non-profit organizations, the City Administrative (Budget) Office overseeing Bond Programs, the Department of General Services where she served as Finance Director over capital projects, the Los Angeles Fire and Pensions Department as Chief Financial Officer, and the Public Works – Bureau of Street Services, where she currently works serves as the Assistant Director/Chief Financial Officer.” 

Reid Lidow’s own words are: 

“Rising through the ranks at City Hall, first as a communications staffer and then as a speechwriter and deputy press secretary, I was selected to serve as Mayor Garcetti’s Executive Officer. In this role, I provided strategic counsel to the Mayor and ensured the execution of his day-to-day goals. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, I led the writing team behind the Mayor’s nightly briefings turning raw data into crucial advice for how Angelenos could stay safe. Working across the Mayor’s Office and city departments, I saw firsthand the whole-of-government approach required to confront the pandemic and save lives. From the hundreds of millions of dollars in rental assistance the Mayor delivered to struggling renters and landlords, to raising the minimum wage and investing in a renewal of our city’s aging infrastructure, I’m proud to have played a small part in this work.” 

As for David T Vahedi:

“David has the courage and the right experience to root out corruption and inefficiency at City Hall.

David was put to the test early in his career as a government auditor. As organized crime infiltrated the nation’s fuel supply chain resulting in California losing over $148,000,000 in 1994 to tax theft, the state was caught flat footed and unprepared. In response, the State Board of Equalization (SBOE) asked David and several other auditors to be the founding members of its first dedicated criminal investigation unit. After three years of hard work and dozens of prosecutions and targeted legislation, David and the team essentially eliminated tax theft in the fuel industry and re-leveled the playing field for honest businesses. Based on the unit’s early success, the legislature and the SBOE created a permanent criminal investigations unit with limited peace officer status to protect California’s taxpayers.

After graduating law school and developing a successful law practice, David was drawn back to government service in 2010. This time David was asked to be part of a team to decentralize the SBOE’s Appeal Program and be its first Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) based in Southern California. At the time, Appeals’ unit ALJ’s were based exclusively in Sacramento necessitating the ALJ’s to lose two days a week travelling around the state to hold hearings. Not only was this travel expensive (airfare, rental car, hotel, and food costs), it ended up wasting 40% of the ALJ’s time resulting in decisions taking as long as a year to issue.”

 

And finally, Rob Wilcox:

“Rob has spent nearly two decades at the forefront of fighting for government accountability and transparency. He has served in key positions in consequential State of California and City of Los Angeles offices, including the Los Angeles City Controller’s Office to the California Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. He now takes that fight to the race for Los Angeles City Controller.

Rob is no stranger to the transformative ability of the Controller’s office. He served as Deputy Controller for Laura Chick. He was pivotal in providing transparency and accountability by engaging both the press and the public in demanding action from the City for the audits Controller Chick released. Laura and Rob released reports on contracting practices at the LADWP, Airport and Port, leading to federal investigations; a culture of harassment and discrimination at LAFD; the massive rape kit test backlog at the LAPD; the cost and abuse of City employee take-home vehicles; and a comprehensive strategy on gang and youth development programs. Rob knows how to maximize the Controller’s ability to effect change.

When the Governor appointed Laura in 2009 to serve as Inspector General for the Obama-era Recovery Act spending, she brought Rob with her to serve as Chief Deputy Inspector General.” 

In other words, sounds like a professional politician, including fronting for Laura Chick when she was Controller.

Vote for Kenneth Mejia!

We need more young technologically smart people who want to make the LA City Controller a partner who can educate the public on how to interact with Audit data and hold officials’ feet to the fire when it comes to recommendations from a departmental audit. 

The LA Times got this one right. 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)