By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Contreras, in effect, could be faced with having to choose between stepping down from the County Fed — an unlikely outcome — or giving up his Airport Commission seat, where he is a voice for labor in an arena in which the rights of employees and contract workers make regular headlines.
In fact, Contreras said, the ban won’t affect him, because the County Fed has mastered the art of independent expenditures, meaning he can raise enough money and deploy enough precinct walkers on his own, without coordinating with a candidate’s campaign. If he wants to support Hahn, for example, he has enough clout to do it whether Hahn wants him to or not.
But not everybody is in the same position. “I do worry about what it means to other progressive groups who don’t have the resources to do independent expenditures,” Contreras said. “We have to make sure we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
Another reform measure coming down the line soon presents even more problems for city commissioners who work with nonprofit or progressive organizations. Taking a cue from Chick, and worried about rumors that city commissioners who raise campaign funds also bypass city staff and contract directly with vendors, the council is expected to try to widen the distance between commissioners and contracting by barring commission members from sitting in on any initial discussions with potential vendors.
“I am biased to staff,” Miscikowski said, “having been a 30-year staff member myself. And I really do think civil service and staff by and large do an honest and good job of selecting contractors.”
The commissioners can enter the process, she said, in open session, after staff has done its work.
Madeleine Janis-Aparicio, who heads the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and is a member of the Community Redevelopment Agency board, said she needs to work with staff, before a final proposal comes to the board.
“Being a redevelopment commissioner is a huge amount of work,” she said. “For us to be able to do the job right, we need to be able to talk with developers.”
The role of commissioners, and the scope of their powers, is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. A key compromise in the charter reform debate of 1999 was to follow the path of empowering the mayor by allowing him to fire commissioners outright, rather than forcing him to go to the council for consent, the way he used to. This seemingly obscure charter change has allowed the perception, at least, of a mayoral directive to his commissioners to squeeze campaign money out of contractors to thrive.
“The problem with the commission system is that we really don’t know how it works,” said Raphael Sonenshein, the Cal State Fullerton political science professor who directed one of the two charter commissions.
“Charter reform didn’t systematically address the commission question,” Sonenshein said, adding that it may require another look beyond the reforms now before the council.