City Councilmember Jose Huizar said the City Charter is our constitution and everything flows from that. Don’t like the CRA?, change the charter, police and fire pensions to high? – change the charter, DWP too independent change the charter.
However as many may know, in the late 1990’s the Mayor and City Council couldn’t agree on much of anything. There were two charter commissions competing as two siblings might. One wanted neighborhood councils to have more than an advisory role in local affairs while the other saw them as another layer of bureaucracy impeding development and thwarting downtown rule (although they didn’t call it that of course.)
Raphael Sonenshein’s three rules that he claims brought the two commissions together was to agree on Accountability, Transparency and Participation as the yardstick by which to measure a charter amendment.
Sonenshein wrote the book on charter change and along with many on the panel Julie Butcher, Jackie-Dupont Walker, Fernando Guerra, Xandra Kayden, Ron Kaye and Greg Neslon, were on the last Charter Commission some 10 years ago. Previously the last one was in 1925.
Unfortunately the commission system was never fixed. Who are they accountable to, it’s not clear what they do and what is their true role, and why are they not knowledgeable about their departments? Many commissioners just want to pad their resumes and give as little as possible to the task as necessary. Some have resigned early once they realized the work involved.
Do we need a commission on commissioners? The 2006 movie Idiocracy, where a dullard wakes up 500 years in the future to find he is the smartest man in the future echoes the appointment of weakly qualified appointments to the city’s commissions. There needs to be a more through and more grueling assessment of their abilities and character. In my memory I don’t recall a commissioner appointee not being approved by the City Council.
Fernando Guerra, Professor of Political Science at Loyola Marymount University, has become a strong supporter of neighborhood councils and suggested at the forum having one commission appointment from them for each board of commissioners. This would include the proprietary departments as well. Brought about either through a charter amendment, ordinance or by policy directive, he suggests.
The neighborhood council appointees might not always be the most qualified from the city’s gene pool, but the commissioner will be our idiot, not downtowns.
Heinrich Keifer, Treasure of the L.A. Clean Sweep Committee, asked if the requirement of needing the signatures of 15% of the registered voters in the city to get a charter amendment on the ballot for private citizens is too high. Kayton didn’t thinks so nor did, somewhat reluctantly, Huizar. Kaye strongly supports lowering the threshold. Simply put he said if you want people to participate in the city you need to open the doors and window and allow the public in. Butcher echoed that and wants elections to coincide with the State’s elections in November or have weekend voting, vote by mail, all to get more voter turnout and increase participation.
The Guerra and DuPont-Walker felt that if the issue was important enough the 15% requirement could be met. They didn’t want government by referendum, yet as Butcher pointed out that is actually how the city charter was formed.
Greg Nelson former General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment suggested later that an ongoing charter commission, a “Good Government Commission” if you will, would make recommendations on a regular basis to the City Council for inclusion on the ballot. The commission could make holistic changes in a comprehensive way, not having sections of the charter read like spaghetti code but making it all fit together and up to date.
It might increase public participation if future charter forums were held at a more convenient time. Not during a work day early in the morning although the turnout was quite large for event of this type at about 250.
Professor Guerra on NC Commissioners
Charter Forum Part 1 Opening Statements
Charter Forum Part 2 Roundtable Discussion
Charter Forum Part 3 Audience Q&A