You wouldn't know it from our polite manner of speaking, but there is a lot going on at the ethics commission.
One issue involves neighborhood councils. The other is about enforcement of campaign contribution laws. Together, they constitute the great LA power battle: City Hall versus the neighborhoods, campaign contributors and their recipients versus the Los Angeles residents who want to continue our strict regulation.
These issues were at the center of the Valley secession movement. It failed, but one legacy was a network of neighborhood councils, a small attempt to shift power from downtown to the neighborhoods, which are the heart and soul of the city. The councils are advisory. They have no legislative power. But their very existence is too much for the City Council. So the council is trying to shut them up,
This all came before us at the ethics commission on Tuesday, February 12, a day that used to be called Lincoln's Birthday, a holiday named for a politician who had strong things to say about "the government of the people, by the people, for the people…"
First, the neighborhood councils.
A commission was created to improve the system of councils--groups of interested people who discuss neighborhood problems. The commission proposed giving these advisory groups a bit of power, permitting them to propose measures to the city council. Not vote on them, mind you, just propose them by introducing an ordinance.
That was too much for the city hall crowd. City Council President Eric Garcetti and City Councilman Greg Smith want each neighborhood council member to fill out a long and detailed form listing all the family's incomes, investments, loans and gifts. Obviously, this was to discover any conflict of interest. The Central City Association, the voice of downtown business, supports the city council members.
All of us appointed commissioners make such disclosures. We should. Commissioners have power to make zoning decisions, award harbor and airport contracts, supervise of the police and fire departments and, in our case, enforce campaign finance laws. We have power and should reveal our financial affairs to assure the public we have no conflicts.
But such disclosure is a lot to ask of a neighborhood volunteer who has no power and who, in the spirit of good citizenship, joins an advisory body. Be a volunteer and tell the world every detail of your family financial life. Most volunteers will probably opt out and the neighborhood councils will grow even weaker as good people drift away.
My fellow commissioner Michael Camunez said such a rule could drive people away from neighborhood council participation. The rest of us agreed. Hopefully, the city council will listen to us.
On campaign contribution laws, lawyers representing City Council members and other elected officials are trying to weaken our tough enforcement mechanism.
We discussed the matter briefly this month, but the real battle will be fought next month.
Check our web site, http://ethics.lacity.org/, for the agenda for next month's meeting. Get the report on prosecutorial discretion in ethics commission enforcement. It's all there in the report; if you agree, or disagree, tell us and your city council representative.