By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Now the board‘s toughest critics contend that county government is deeply rooted in unlawful bureaucracy, that its actions are habitually furtive, its decisions largely rendered by unelected deputies who are only now being asked to meet in the public eye.
In addition, these critics argue, Pellman and Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen “sequentially” meet with the five board members via telephone calls. The result, in the critics’ eyes, is a government almost impervious to public input: By the time the folks sign up to speak in the boardroom, the deal is all but done.
This may be an extreme view. But certainly, county matters don‘t get anything like the multiple committee exposure that city proposals and ordinances receive in public hearings held by the L.A. City Council, commissions and committees. Or that similar matters get in the Legislature. On its good days, county defenders can say, the county system works better -- with less acrimony and obvious influence peddling -- at getting things done. The wheels, it’s argued, turn faster when none of them are squeaky.
But these are not good days. The county this month faces its toughest budget decisions since 1992. It needs all the public involvement it can possibly get.
Which is a role that the current system -- with its administrative whisper corridors -- arguably doesn‘t provide. The pending hard-times restructuring of the health system, for instance, should be done only after a maximum of considered input from all affected parties. Which doesn’t just mean letting people stand in line to give their three-minute comments in the boardroom. In this case, it‘s going to have to mean these parties -- including doctors, nurse unions and intern associations -- having a chance to sit down and talk with, not to, government. Because saving public health in this county means the board members are going to have to learn a lot more about their busted-out system than they seem to want to know.
Meanwhile, there have been small improvements: Those deputy meetings are now open; the closed-session board meetings are being taped. And there’s that suit brought by the First Amendment Coalition‘s Richard McKee and the Los Angeles Times, which seeks both a legal determination that the board has been violating the Brown Act and a demand that it not do so again. The suit asks for easier access to all public documents and a prohibition from the board’s ever using “its deputies or other County staff members as intermediaries to conduct meetings or serial meetings in violation of the Brown Act.”
A win for this action would be a good start. Another good idea that‘s emerged from the recent debate has been the establishment of a panel of volunteers to watch over the board’s activities. To make sure the sort of thing that happened last December 18-19 happens as seldom as possible. Or, ideally, never again.
And what of the original issue of that event -- the petition seeking a living wage for those perpetually downtrodden county health-care workers who earn minimum wage for taking care of invalids in their homes? Well, the workers finally got those signatures; as their spokesman, Hugh Hallenberg, said: “The voices of 350,000 L.A. County voters have been heard -- and they cannot be ignored or silenced by the Board of Supervisors. The rules of the democratic process demand that the Homecare Protection Act of 2002 be placed on the November ballot.”
This week, the board voted unanimously to bring suit to block the measure from the November ballot. This time, they did so against the advice of another outside counsel -- Richard Jones of O‘Melveny & Myers.