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Wed, Sep

City Ethics: Going That Step Further

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-Do you hear us? While the Ethics Commission does good work in overseeing campaign finances as well as addressing malfeasance by city officials and employees, there are ways they should go further. 

This would require action by the City Council so it can regulate at least some of these directly or, perhaps better, an enhancement in funding and manpower for the Ethics Commission to allow it to expand its mandate to cover such additional areas of responsibility. 

Here are 12 requests from the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates and individuals who spoke up at Budget Day which we hope the City Council adds to its New Year’s Resolutions: 

  1. Strengthen definitions and enforcement of campaign contributions. Enhance the recently-passed regulation on developer money reform by following the original recommendations of the Ethics Commission and/or by revisiting and including the best of the over 900 comments by stakeholders.
  2. Obligate Councilmembers to document and publish all discretionary funds receipt and use. Require every Council District set up and maintain in real time a page on their websites clearly showing in detail all monies received and expended in connection with the Councilmembers’ discretionary funds, to increase its transparency to stakeholders, and to aid the City Attorney and Commission in addressing inappropriate uses, if any. 
  1. Penalize departments which do not immediately upon discovery disclose wrongdoing to both the Ethics Commission and the City Attorney. Make the necessary institutional changes to protect confidential personnel information and individual rights of both the whistleblowers and the accused so as to ensure all departments are comfortable in reporting malfeasance to the Ethics Commission and City Attorney when first detected, rather than waiting on completion of internal investigations. 
  1. Standardize reporting and enforcement of ethics violations. Work with the Ethics Commission and departments to create benchmarks for assessing potential ethics violations across the city to ensure consistent application in all departments. 
  1. Make it an offense for departments to cover up wrongdoing. Develop strategies to address ways to change the culture of hiding violations by departments. Allowing people to resign and keep their pensions and/or move on to other jobs just demonstrates it’s acceptable to break the rules without real consequences.  And encourages more of the same.  At the expense of the taxpayer. 
  1. Mandate the City Attorney’s office only settle cases when the guilty party has accepted full responsibility and the consequent punishment. Push the City Attorney’s office to immediately set clear parameters and procedures so there is less incentive for the city’s lawyers to cave and settle lawsuits including those challenging treatment of ethics violations. The fear of countersuits has consistently allowed malefactors to avoid just punishment and sets a bad precedent, continuing the current culture of rewarding bad behavior. 
  1. Penalize those who game the system to steal taxpayer dollars with continual lawsuits. Immediately enact procedures to ensure the City Attorney’s office can stop people who bring spurious lawsuits (minor ADA violations, repeated trip-and-fall claims, etc.) tying up city resources and encouraging more of the same. 
  1. Force the guilty to pay the costs for and settlements of harassment suits out of their own pockets. Stop the practice of using public money to settle harassment cases brought against City officials – all costs and penalties must be 100% the responsibility of the individual or the City will continue to be seen as fostering an environment that condones harassment at all levels. 
  1. Demand immediate repayment to the city of all costs when companies which are given incentives and/or tax breaks do not fully comply with their contractual obligations. Crack down on businesses and developers, including the individuals behind them, who make a deal with the city for tax waivers and other incentives and then fail to hold up their end of the deal. 
  1. Change regulations to ensure all wrongdoing is punished equally and the offenders cannot sue the city. Implement the necessary regulatory changes to ensure all instances of malfeasance are punishable, whether or not the City signed off on tainted plans. Currently, if a city employee or contractor is misled or makes a mistake, people who deliberately break the law subsequent to such approval, can then sue the city. This is just wrong. 
  1. Fix the DROP Program. Overhaul the Fire and Police Deferred Retirement Option Plans to correct their excesses and ensure that what remains is entirely in the interest of the city and its residents 
  1. Significantly augment the people’s input. Codify ways to ensure stakeholders’ voices can be heard above the power of monied interests including closing loopholes that developers use to skirt around code requirements and harass complainants. 

In the spirit of the season, we ask that the above be acted upon as soon as possible, whether by legislation / regulation or by ballot. 

This is part of a series based on and inspired by the Budget Advocates’ interviews with various Los Angeles City Departments in the fall of 2019. 

If you have other ideas or suggestions, please email LizAmsden@hotmail.com or contact your Councilmember’s office directly since the above are primarily procedural concerns that would first need to be addressed by the City Council.

 

(The Budget Advocates are an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.