LA Commission: Insiders Acknowledge Lack of Transparency

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Between the lines of the Los Angeles 2020 Commission Report, “A Time for Action” one can read this less than startling revelation: City politicians are dishonest and untruthful with the public.

Consider the recommendations and words used in the report meant to offer solutions to the city’s woes. The first recommendation the commission offered was to create an Office of Transparency and Accountability at City Hall. The reason — the report says trust is lost when citizens are given little information and things don’t turn out as the politicians promised.

That’s not all.

The body of the report has section heads that urge “Truth in Budgeting” and “Be Honest about the Cost of Future Promises.”

Lack of transparency, absence of budget truth, dishonest assessments … that from a report issued by insiders all familiar with City Hall.

Austin Beutner, co-chairman of the commission and former Los Angeles jobs czar under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa touted the need for transparency at a recent Town Hall of Los Angeles event by summarizing the campaign on behalf of last year’s Measure A sales tax increase. Police Chief Charlie Beck took to the air urging that the tax pass or “cops will go home and all hell will break loose, ” Beutner said. The tax failed and nothing happened.

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer also strongly backed the tax but since its defeat he has told the City Council to, “stay the course.” As Beunter put it, “I guess the crisis abated or never was.”

The Office of Transparency and Accountability is designed to provide nonpartisan, independent analysis modeled after the Congressional Budget Office and the California State Legislative Analyst’s Office. As an example of the importance of an independent truth teller, Beutner spoke of the Legislative Analyst constantly reminding the governor and legislators that the proposed California bullet train is not living up to promises made to voters when the high speed rail bond was on the ballot.

The 13-member Commission appointed by council president Herb Wesson and co-chaired by Beutner and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, initially came out with an assessment of the city’s problems in December, titling their report, “A Time for Truth.” (There’s that word again.)

The report called Los Angeles a city in decline.

Beutner provided evidence noting that Los Angeles is the only big city that has not gained any jobs in the last two decades and that the city has more unemployed than Detroit has residents.

Four months after the initial report was issued, the commission’s follow-up report with recommendations was released. The second report did not carry the hard edge of the first and was greeted with a collective shrug from many in the public affairs community.

Beutner argued that the recommendations put forth were a starting point for a conversation. He admitted there were no silver bullets to turn the city around.

The solutions document recommended more bureaucracies to feed, commissions on transparency, retirement security and utility rates.

There were other recommendations to be sure, such as developing economic incentives through regional tourism promotion, combining the ports of LA and Long Beach, and creating specific economic regions or clusters for biotech and manufacturing.

But nothing about reducing the troublesome business taxes as a spur to the economy.

The commission did its work and is moving on. The commissioners volunteered their time. As Commissioner David Fleming said at the Town Hall session, commissioners used their own money. There was no public money or staff involved.

Beutner said, “We are done, we are not advocates.” He said it is up to citizens to continue the discussion and urge elected officials to act on the commission’s recommendations.

There’s the rub. The commission recommendations live or die with the politicians that the report indicates have been less than truthful and honest with the citizens of Los Angeles.

Did the officials get the message? Or does anyone sense the fox creeping into the chicken coop?

Originally published in the Los Angeles Register.

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