Saturday, October 27, 2007

City Controller Hopefull Wendy Greuel Wants To Ensure "Honesty & Transparency" In City Elections (That WOULD Be a Novel Idea!)

by "Density & Congestion Engineer" Councilmember Wendy Greuel

In an effort to ensure honesty and transparency in City elections, I introduced a motion last month asking the City Ethics Commission to include ex parte communications with City Commissioners under the City's ethics code.

We must ensure that all City Commissions are operating in an open, ethical, and transparent manner. Angelenos have the right to know that decisions by their City government are being made on behalf of the people, not the powerful.

Ex parte communications are contacts made by an interested party - such as a lobbyist with a decision maker - such as a City Commissioner - outside the presence of other stakeholders. An expanded ex parte code would require City Commissioners to make public all such contacts before voting on a particular issue.

The City Ethics Commission does not currently have a citywide ex parte communications program for City Commissioners and groups conducting business with a Commission. Currently, City Commissioners could hold several meetings with lobbyists or community groups and receive private information without having any legal obligation to report these exchanges. Under the new ordinance, a Planning Commissioner, for example, would be bound by law to announce that he had met with a developer before making a land use decision relevant to the developer.

We are not suggesting that contacts between Commissioners and stakeholders are inherently wrong. I simply believe that the citizens of Los Angeles have a right to full disclosure of all the evidence used to reach a public decision.

I have found that most City Commissioners are eager for a defined set of rules on reporting and publicizing ex parte communications. The City Commissioners I have worked with want to ensure due process on all matters before them, particularly in the case of quasi-judicial issues.

Various cities and agencies across the State of California have implemented ex parte communications restrictions, including, the City of San Diego, the City of Santa Monica Planning Commission, and the California Coastal Commission.

In order to safeguard the best interest of Los Angeles residents, I am working step by step to clean up City government. In 2005, I led the effort to ban City Commissioners from fund raising or from participating in contracting. We also launched the effort to institute a "Clean Money" system for City elections, which would remove the influence of special interests in these elections, and helped to create the Waste, Fraud and Abuse Investigation Unit in the Controller's office. Fighting for transparency at the commission level is one more step toward an honest and efficient City Hall.

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