Op-Ed: How to reform L.A. City Hall to avoid future corruption and scandal

The October 2021 secretly recorded conversation involving three Los Angeles City Council members and a union leader is another scandal that will further damage public confidence in the city’s government.

Los Angeles has had many corruption issues with City Council members centered on kickbacks, obstruction, and conspiracies. The current scandal is somewhat different in its exposure of ugly racism and the use of redistribution to disempower certain racial groups and others. However, there is one thing in common with the other scandals: they are all devastating to public confidence and corrosive to the process of government.

Piecemeal, limited proposals are unlikely to change the government structure that has made such misconduct possible. Therefore, reforms must be implemented to strengthen more democracy in the city. One starting point is the reform of the redistribution process on which the government structure is based.

The recorded conversation was about the redistribution of districts and the vicious political process that often accompanies it. Truly independent county redistribution commissions that take the task of drawing county boundaries out of the hands of politicians can make a huge difference in government transparency and public confidence. States that have independent commissions have found they can limit partisan manipulation.

Commissions like these would also be useful at the municipal level, as they would help to balance competing interests, including racial and ethnic ones, and prevent elected officials from choosing their constituents and the economic assets they might covet. Under the bylaws, LA has a District Redistribution Commission, but it is not independent of the politicians who appoint it. This commission and California Common Cause, a nonpartisan government affairs watchdog group, support the idea of ​​an independent commission to redistribute LA

Redistribution reforms could be accompanied by city council reforms that would strengthen local democracy. Per person, LA City Council members represent more residents than any other city council in the country, approximately 265,000 people per elected member. In contrast, New York City’s 51 council members each represent about 164,000 people, while Chicago’s 50 aldermen each represent about 54,000 people. A larger City Council was recommended by the city’s Redistribution Commission and approved by City Atty. Mike Feuer and five current members of the LA City Council.

Bringing elected officials closer to the people — which would happen if districts were smaller — would improve the connection between council members and their constituents, and allow constituents, along with potential political challengers, to better monitor incumbents’ behavior.

However, the impact this could have on general corruption should not be overstated. Chicago’s counties are tiny compared to LA’s counties, and it has a long history of corruption. Still, smaller districts could increase the importance of local politics and boost turnout and engagement in Los Angeles, which has a long history of low turnout in city elections.

Eliminating staggered terms for city council members could also impose a sense of collective accountability on council members if they believe their chances of re-election are related to the performance of the council as a whole. Currently, only half of the city council is elected in an election cycle. More than 100 years ago, city reformers promoted staggered terms to ensure institutional memory in city councils composed of part-time volunteer officers. This deprecated rule is no longer necessary.

Corruption scandals involving bribes, conspiracies and kickbacks speak to the need to strengthen LA City’s Ethics Committee so that it can operate truly independently of the elected officials it oversees. The Commission is proposing reforms to make them more independent and these should be approved. Both Detroit and New Orleans created inspectors general to investigate wrongdoing following financial scandals involving their former mayors, Kwame Kilpatrick and Ray Nagin, respectively, both of whom were in prison. LA should do the same.

In addition, reforming campaign finance can prevent corruption among city officials. Developers are important actors in city politics and fund city campaigns. As long as elected officials need their money — even in systems like LA that allow public matching funds — the temptation will always be there to do zoning and other regulatory favors for monetary special interests. Some cities, like Seattle, are experimenting with so-called democracy coupons to reduce the impact of big donors. These vouchers provide each voter with small amounts of money to use to support candidates in local elections. Research shows that this program is achieving its intended goal of diversifying the donor pool in city elections.

LA has seen more than its share of scandals, and the complexity of the issues involved make the way forward less than clear. But it’s not alone in dealing with municipal corruption, and the experiences of other major cities may offer lessons — and perhaps even answers — on how to better foster a culture of ethical government.

Timothy B. Krebs is Professor of Political Science at the University of New Mexico. He is co-author of Understanding Urban Politics: Institutions, Representation, and Policies and founder of Krebs Research and Consulting LLC.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-10-18/los-angeles-city-council-scandal-reform Op-Ed: How to reform L.A. City Hall to avoid future corruption and scandal

Alley Einstein

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