Courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr

The Los Angeles (LA) City Council has been inundated with scandal after scandal since long before the release of the racist recordings of various council members, including Councilmember Kevin de León, who had held onto his seat to this day. In response to the unending barrage of scandals facing the city, a series of charter reforms are being considered in order to rebuild public trust. While some of these measures seem like an overdue no-brainer, they will not be enough to mitigate the damage done by years of wrongdoing on the part of council members.

While the release of recording that implicated LA City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmember de León resulted in a push for transparency in a shocking turn of events, so were the charges brought against City Council President Pro Tempore Curren Price for perjury and embezzlement. There was also the 2021 indictment of suspended Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas for his participation in the University of Southern California (USC) kickback scheme for which he was found guilty of seven charges, including “conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud and honest services wire fraud.” 

In 2020, sexual harassment of a bodyguard for Mayor Eric Garcetti was alleged in a suit against the city. There was also the “pay-to-play” scheme investigation that led to the conviction of former Councilmember Mitchell Englander for lying to federal authorities, which, again, significantly diminished public trust in the city council. There have been investigations into council members for illegal donations, and federal authorities have expended time and resources investigating campaign contributions. LA City Council is quite literally overflowing with corruption and ethics violations that would make their constituents’ skin crawl. 

These odious and numerous scandals make it important that the Ethics Commission be given more independence. There’s no question this council needs reigning and oversight; they cannot be trusted to behave themselves, so, like children, they need supervision. The charter reforms of the greatest importance were the addition of two new commissioners not appointed by elected officials and the ability to directly add ordinances to the ballot.

The proposed new charter reforms are incredibly necessary, and it is unclear why they were not in place before, but they will not be enough to stop the poorly concealed corruption that has made a home for itself in the walls of City Hall. While increasing penalties for violations of the LA Ethics Code is a sound decision, the lack of independent oversight is severely problematic. Without the changes, there is no way for the Ethics Commission to place ordinances on the ballot without going through the city council. It is wildly inappropriate that the Ethics Commission has to have the approval of those it is intended to oversee. This council has proven time and time again that they cannot be trusted to monitor themselves or hold themselves accountable. It makes absolutely no sense that they should be allowed to have that kind of sway over the ability of the Ethics Commission to complete their mandate.

A truly independent commission has shown promising results. In San Francisco, the passage of two ethics-related measures gave the commission more power, and it has not been abused. The fear in LA is that the Ethics Commission would take advantage of their ability to go directly to the voters, though there is no evidence to show that this is even remotely likely. The blockage of such a move by the LA City Council only highlights how afraid they are to be held accountable by their constituency and erodes any remaining trust the public has left.

This came to fruition on May 14 when the council decimated any real chance at ethics reform, gutting the public’s hopes. The previous package was not ambitious enough, and still, the council rejected its most important changes. A completely gutted package will be all that’s on the ballot this November. The choice to actively avoid accountability will only strengthen the community’s resolve and reinforce the need for greater reform. 

An unsurprising 90% of LA voters think ethics reform is needed to address the level of corruption within the city council. And despite this clear public support, the council rejected the reforms. It’s a slap in the face of the community and so disrespectful that there are no words for it. Even the bare minimum they’re offered is only a false shot of hope, and there’s no telling if or when Angelenos will get the city council they deserve.


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    The Highlander editorials reflect the majority view of the Highlander Editorial Board. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Associated Students of UCR or the University of California system.