Los Angeles City Council members are the
nation’s highest paid at $178,789 per year.
The part-time Washington, D.C. council is next at $130,538. New York’s part-time council makes $121,725
The L.A. Council costs the most per seat, $1.7
million, employs staff of over 300, and each receives a car (with parking meter
immunity) and a $100,000 yearly taxpayer-financed slush fund.
A part-time council would benefit city
governance. In addition to savings, a
part-time council provides access to a more diverse field of
professionals. Candidates would not have
to leave their private or public sector careers to serve. A part-time council takes advantage of talent
and experience from outside City Hall – members that create jobs and balance
budgets on a regular basis. City Hall
could use a daily dose of the real world.
There are examples of successful part-time
councils all over L.A. County and the nation.
Of the 88 cities in L.A. County, only Los Angeles is full-time.
Six of the ten largest cities in the nation
have part-time councils: New York,
Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas. Only four of the ten largest cities have
full-time councils: Los Angeles,
Philadelphia, San Diego and San Jose, with three of the four in California –
one of the most mismanaged states in the nation.
The L.A. City Council would be transformed –
from a full-time body looking to benefit personally from high salaries, huge
staffs and perks – into a part-time body drawing from significant contributions
from its members. Building individual
political empires would diminish, while voluntary civic service would expand.
The full-time L.A. Council only works
California Public Records Act requests show
records filled with "excused" absences or early leaves. The L.A. Council appears to work on a "rotation"
schedule enabling it to conduct business with the minimum needed for a quorum
while allowing the maximum time-off spread among members.
Shockingly, this headline ran in the Los
Angeles Times on March 8, 2010: "Automatic ‘yes’ votes allow time for
back-room dealing at City Hall." The
sub-heading read, "Thanks to voting software, City Council members can hold
meetings, give interviews, even grab a smoke while deciding the day’s issues." When voters went to the polls, "computer"
wasn’t on the ballot. Why are we
spending millions on council members when a computer is making the decisions?
Has the full-time L.A. Council been
"Los Angeles today is a city in secular
decline. Its current political
leadership seems determined … to leave behind a dense, government-dominated,
bankrupt, dysfunctional Athens by the Pacific." [Wall Street Journal,
Joel Kotkin, "How Los Angeles Lost Its Mojo" 7/29/2011]. Since 2005 there have been numerous Council
failures even at the most basic level.
And, the L.A. Council serves as the
taxpayer-funded after-party for State Assembly members (e.g., Alarcon
(Assemblyman and Senator), Krekorian (Assemblyman), Cardenas (Assemblyman),
Wesson (Assembly Speaker), Koretz (Assemblyman), and Villaraigosa (Assembly
Speaker)). A part-time council will
solve this problem.
What about conflicts of interest?
It is the full-time nature of the L.A. Council
itself that has likely led to its presiding over one of the most corrupt city
governments in the country. Some city
departments are under FBI investigation.
At least half of the Council have faced
conflict of interest allegations.
Garcetti, Wesson, Huizar and Cardenas for accepting free tickets to
Hollywood events from those doing business with the city. Hahn and Cardenas for ties to a company
bidding for an airport concessions contract.
Perry for directing funds for a park close to her condo near the Grand
Avenue project while serving on the Grand Avenue Authority. Alarcon for charges of perjury and voter
fraud. And Greuel for her office’s use
of the corrupt "Gold Card Desk."
More corruption is evidenced by the Center for
Governmental Studies’ "Money and Power in the City of Angels" finding that the
L.A. Council votes unanimous more than 99% of the time. "The nearly perfect unanimous voting record
of Los Angeles City Council makes it almost impossible to detect linkages
between campaign contributions and council legislative decisions. If any relationship does exist, it is hidden
behind closed doors." [Report, p. 5].
A part-time council would significantly reduce
conflicts and other forms of corruption.
Isn’t Los Angeles too big and complex for a
Critics argue that there’s not enough time to
get things done with a part-time council.
But there are numerous examples around the country and County of
part-time councils effectively and efficiently governing big and complex
It is the full-time status itself that leads
to failure. The high salaries, slush
funds, bloated staffs, and attractive perks all come from the council’s
full-time status. Part-time status
removes such poisonous elements and incentives for corruption and promotes a
volunteer, civic-minded approach to local governance. And that will attract a different type of
candidate with a more diverse base of experience.
This critical reform will take a
voter-approved amendment to the Charter.
This can be done!
Kevin James is an attorney, radio broadcaster,
former Asst. U.S. Attorney, and Candidate for LA Mayor