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Supervisorial Misconduct

The buck-and-a-half word for today is tergiversate, which means ”to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions.“ And as of this week, Los Angeles County Counsel Lloyd Pellman is Civic Center‘s prime tergiversator.

Just look at the way he flipped through his options a few weeks ago on the little matter of dealing with the home health-care workers’ petition for a pay increase.

Remember those home health-care workers? They‘re the folks who take care of invalids in their homes. They do stuff you need done for yourself when you are elderly and disabled. It’s a demanding profession, and in Los Angeles County, it pays six bucks and change an hour. Even backwoods Lassen and Siskiyou counties pay the Sacramento-guideline wage of over $8.50 an hour.

Local health-care workers do have a union, though: Service Employees International Union Local 434b. The union decided to gather signatures for a referendum for the higher wage. The deadline to put the thing on the ballot was December 19. For our knowledge of what comes next, we have to thank Evelyn Larrubia, the Times reporter who dug up the documentation for the stories she broke last week.

On December 14, Pellman wrote a memo calling for a closed-session meeting for county supervisors to ”discuss“ the initiative. (Ever hear of the Brown Act, Lloyd? This item should have been talked about in open and publicly.) In his memo, Pellman warned that he ”may not delay or impede the initiative process while claims of the measure‘s validity are determined.“ In other words, let’s keep our hands off this one and let the courts decide. He also cited a good precedent against allowing public employees‘ wages to be changed by initiative.

At the meeting four days later, however, Pellman suggested that, hey, the board simply could decide not to put the measure on the ballot. Now let’s just think of all the past initiatives -- term limits, for instance -- that could have been dealt with that same way. The problem is, deep-sixing the wishes of the voters in closed session isn‘t legal. Somehow that aspect of things didn’t get across to the eager supes, who voted 4-1 to toss the initiative. Only civic stalwart Zev Yaroslavsky protested.

Turn, turn again, and the next day Pellman‘s on the phone to the supes -- or their staff heads -- telling them he hadn’t really thought this one through, refer to my previous memo, and, guess what, yesterday‘s motion is against the law. ”I reached the conclusion that, in my best professional legal judgment, it was my duty to comply with the [law]“ that forbids such monkeyshines.

This was Pellman’s final tergiversation to date. It seemed like a good place to end up, but you wonder about the route that he took there. Supervisor Gloria Molina, typically out of sorts, claimed she‘d been ”victimized“ by Pellman and hired her own lawyer, to what purpose she did not make clear.

But clearly, the folks who were victimized -- or nearly victimized -- were the health-care workers. They deserve to get their case to the voters and, should it pass, have their day in court. It’s simply too important a decision for the initiative‘s opponents to make in a secret meeting.


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