23
Thu, May

Unethical Practices:  LA City Council at it Again

POLITICS

ACCORDING TO LIZ - Fourteen to zero.

That was the vote by City Council on Friday denying Jamie York approval to become the third member of Ethics Commission. This would have given this body, established in 1990 to preserve the public trust and rebuild the confidence of Angelenos in their city government, the quorum necessary to pursue their work.

Item 13 on the Council’s agenda was: "RESOLVE that the Controller's appointment of Jamie York to the City Ethics Commission, for the term ending June 30, 2028, is APPROVED and CONFIRMED." As soon as the item came up, Councilmember Monica Rodriguez asked to amend it to “disapprove.”

The response to this seemed orchestrated, with Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who was running the meeting, instantly saying “Excellent, I second, any discussion, seeing none we can open the roll” in a single breath, cutting off any debate. Despite this 180° reversal in meaning, the Council immediately proceeded to vote as if it was business as usual.

Jamie York, nominated by Kenneth Mejia and known for addressing the abuses by lobbyists across the City, was rejected unanimously by the City Council.

Jamie is passionate, caring, respected by Neighborhood Councils, by the press, obviously by the Controller, and by the Ethics Commission itself, to which she submitted many Community Interest Statements within the Commission’s jurisdiction she has drafted, and made frequent public comment as well as having individual discussions on policy concerns.

She may not have been on DONE’s previous General Manager’s A-list but Jamie has never been, and I hope never will, be the bootlicker that Raquel preferred to have around her. With her stands on the Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, she may have rubbed a few lobbyists the wrong way.

But what enemies could have engineered this striking about-face after her name was submitted to City Council and after a number of Councilmembers had already indicated their support?

So what were the grounds for rejecting her?

None were given. And people are angry.

The last time Angelenos got really mad, the Valley and the Port threatened to secede from the City due to decisions being made behind closed doors to benefit real estate developers, lobbyists, cronies of the Councilmembers... but not the people living in communities all across Los Angeles.

Those Councilmembers were voting in lockstep, the decisions already made in backroom deals. Any whose constituents might get upset, took the cowards’ way out and did not show up for the vote.

Today the City is already facing demands to expand the Council as part of the redistricting process that arose after the despicable conversation between Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin De León was made public.

With 30 or 35 seats representing smaller districts, it would be harder to buy or trade votes. Not that people are buying votes… It just looked like the fix was in.

The Neighborhood Council system was created in response to these kinds of unethical practices at City Hall.

And now Rodriguez who is single-handedly trying to gut Neighborhood Councils both in her own district and across the City, apparently on the spur of the moment changed the motion from “approve” to “not approve” and it was another unanimous decision, harking back to the last decades of the past century.

Why? There has been a lot of speculation but no answers.

Even though Jamie made herself available, not one Councilmember spoke with her prior to the vote.

People present at the Council meeting report a whispered sidebar by some Councilmembers that was then taken to a back room.

Are Councilmembers afraid that Jamie will ferret out their peccadillos and hold them up to censure? Are they using this to get back at Controller Kenneth Mejia who nominated her for some as-yet unspecified slight? Are they trying to hobble the Ethics Commission?

Is it the intention of Rodriguez and Harris-Dawson and, perhaps a few others to game the City government and make the remaining Councilmembers look like idiots?

There were no questions, no opportunity for Jamie to speak.

The rushed amendment was not formally approved, and the flip in meaning and the vote was pushed through so quickly that no-one was given time to object. Although protest broke out in Council chambers once people realized what had happened, it was too late. Council rules do not allow for comment after a vote.

Has there ever been a motion put on the City Council agenda to disapprove an appointment before?

Has any motion as published in a City Council agenda pursuant to the Brown Act – legislation that is supposed to provide transparency of government actions – ever been altered in such a manner as to diametrically reverse the original intent?

As reported in the LA Times this weekend, Mejia’s Chief of Accountability and Oversight called Jamie “the most qualified” of any ethics commission nominee in recent years, and said that the City Council denied her approval “not because they thought she couldn’t do the job,… [but] because they were afraid she would.”

As of Sunday afternoon, no-one who voted had spoken up about what occurred. Although the office of one admitted the change happened so adroitly that the Councilmember did not take it in.

No debate, no discussion, no opportunity for Jamie to speak, no chance for her supporters to speak out… this appears to be a continuation of the corruption and backroom deals of the 1980s and 1990s that led to the creation of the Neighborhood Councils.

“The Councilmembers’ action makes them look petty and weak. For many, this vote confirms the Council’s reputation as a corrupt organization with no interest in ethical behavior or accountability to the people of Los Angeles,” points out Doug Epperhart, President of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council who has worked with the Neighborhood Council system since its inception.

This is a slap in the face of the Neighborhood Councils. And, if they are being targeted or this is an attack on Kenneth Mejia or the Ethics Commission, to tar Jamie's personal reputation without any justification is reprehensible behavior by the City Council.

If it’s retaliation for the hard work she has done on behalf of the City’s stakeholders, that’s even worse.

What now?

To overturn the “disapproval,” City Council must include a motion for reconsideration brought by a Councilmember who voted with the majority on their next agenda. That’s Tuesday, August 22. It is the responsibility of the City Council’s president to set the agenda so it may be too late but people could call or e-mail the office of Paul Krekorian - (213) 473-7002 [email protected] – to demand action. If they know people in his office, call and e-mail them as well.

People living in other districts should contact their own Councilmembers and ask that they either justify their actions or lean on Krekorian to do the right thing.

Do as much in writing as possible so what transpires can be revealed to the public through a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request.

Was there some ulterior reason for this vote which ensures that the Ethics Commission does not have quorum to proceed with their work?

Anyone who colluded in such a travesty should be publicly censured. Or the City Council risks losing forever whatever trust remains of their constituents and the people of Los Angeles.

Whatever happens, the City Council must set up an investigation of what occurred – several state laws appear to have been flaunted – to demonstrate that transparency still exists at City Hall.

Our City government’s operations are supposed to be accountable, transparent and – yes – ethical.

 

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)

Get The News In Your Email Inbox Mondays & Thursdays