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CITY HALL - As this column is being written, the big kerfuffle in the Los Angeles mayor’s race has three candidates who are city officeholders charging each other with traveling around the world at the taxpayers’ expense. 

Shame on them for not dealing with this problem before they all got into the mayor’s race. 

In 2008, when each was a member of the City Council, I wrote a couple of CityWatch columns that outlined some simple steps that could be taken to add transparency to the problem of junkets, I mean city business travel.  Nothing ever happened. 

Concern about excessive travel by city employees kicked into high gear in 1992 when Councilmen Joel Wachs and Ernani Bernardi proposed that each city employee and elected official who attends a city-paid-for convention prepare a report that detailed all activities they participated in, and very importantly, new information they collected. 

The reasoning was simple.  The councilmen wanted to know how many people needed to attend the same event, and how the public was served by anyone at all attending.  In other words, was it a junket or a worthwhile trip? 

The motion floundered, and the issue was revived in 1993 when a frustrated Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, proposed an immediate freeze on all foreign travel following media reports about a two-week trip that Mayor Villaraigosa and 20 or so other city officials would be taking to several European destinations.   

The city was in the middle of a fiscal crisis at the time, and Yaroslavsky wanted a freeze on foreign travel until new controls could be adopted. 

With support this time from Councilwoman Joan Flores, Wachs reintroduced the transparency motion.  New rules, including the requirement disclose what had been learned, became part of the city’s Administrative Code.  For those who don’t believe me, it can be found in Section 4.242.75. 

But there are still some problems with the ordinance.  The three mayoral candidates spent years in position to propose improvements.  It’s a project that neighborhood councils could undertake.

First: At the last minute, elected officials were exempted from the requirement.  

Each year a number of city council members and city staff attend the National and the California League of Cities conferences while the rest of the City Council is in recess.  No one ever knows what they do there, or on all those foreign adventures. 

Until they are written back into the law, elected officials should voluntarily comply with it.

Second:  The law was originally concerned with attendance at “conventions” that are paid for in part or in whole by public money. 

The law should be amended to include any event that uses public money, and to any city business events that require the elected official to miss time away from City Hall. 

Third:  The reports should be filed not just with the department head, but also with the City Controller, and posted on the city’s website for all to see.

If you worked in the private sector the first thing you would do when you returned is tell your bosses what you learned.  

Imagine telling them that it’s none of their business.  But that’s exactly what our elected officials have been doing to the public, their bosses, all along. 

And it’s not too late to ask Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry, and Wendy Greuel for a list of the trips they’ve taken outside the city and what they learned at each one that will impress, amaze, and astound the city’s residents.

 

(Greg Nelson is a former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, was instrumental in the creation of the LA Neighborhood Council System, served as chief of staff for former LA City Councilman Joel Wachs …  and occasionally writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])
-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 11 Issue 17

Pub: Feb 26, 2013

 

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