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L.A. City Council votes to put LAPD disciplinary reform changes on the ballot

L.A. voters will decide whether to give the police chief power to immediately fire an officer for serious misconduct, along with other possible changes to the disciplinary process

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(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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By Linh Tat
Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES — Continuing its effort to advance government reforms, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday, June 4, to place a question on the November general election ballot about proposed changes to the city’s police disciplinary review process – including giving the police chief the power to immediately fire an officer for serious misconduct.

But councilmembers punted on other controversial proposals, including whether to let the council reduce the number of times it meets to at least once per week. Currently, the city charter mandates that the council meet at least three times a week – although the council president can cancel meetings.

Some councilmembers feel their time would be better spent elsewhere, such as spending more time in their districts, and that they would work more efficiently if they didn’t have to attend as many council meetings.

But at least one councilmember, Monica Rodriguez, and some good governance advocates, raised concerns that reducing the number of council meetings would make elected officials less accessible to the public.

The council on Tuesday also punted on a question about who the city’s chief financial officer is. The city’s chief administrative officer — who is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council — and the city controller, who is elected by the voters, both say their office performs functions that are consistent with that of a chief financial officer.

Near the end of an hours-long meeting, the council decided to refer those issues to the future charter reform commission — a body which has yet to be formed.

Here are highlights of Tuesday’s council discussion and actions:

Los Angeles Police Department Board of Rights The council decided to let voters decide in November whether the LAPD’s disciplinary review board, known as the Board of Rights, shall be required to be made up of one sworn officer with the rank of captain or higher and two civilian hearing officers.

Currently, an officer facing discipline can request an all-civilian board. But critics say history has shown that all-civilian boards tend to be more lenient with their punishments.

If voters approve the proposed changes on the November ballot, they would also be granting the chief of police the power to fire an officer for cause. That officer could still appeal that decision through binding arbitration after being fired. Currently, the police chief can only recommend that an officer be fired, with the final decision falling to the Board of Rights.

Tuesday’s council vote calls for the city attorney to prepare a resolution to place the question before voters on the Nov. 5 ballot. The resolution, once drafted, will need to be voted on by the council.

How often should the City Council meet? Under the current city charter, the City Council is required to meet at least three times a week, said Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky, who introduced a motion along with Councilmember Tim McOsker to change that requirement to a minimum of one meeting per week.

Yaroslavsky said this would allow councilmembers to hold more “robust” committee meetings – and even joint committee meetings – with time for more substantive discussions before motions are passed out of committee.

The council could still meet more than once a week, but amending the charter would give the council the flexibility to go down to one meeting a week.

“What this amendment does is remove a really rigid requirement from the charter that’s hampering our other work in a really significant way,” Yaroslavsky said.

McOsker said he frequently turns down 20 invitations to attend events per week because of packed meeting schedules and other obligations, and that it’s important for councilmembers to actually spend time in their communities.

“I don’t have a single person in my district who says, ‘Gee, I wish you were in City Council (meetings) more often.’” he said. “But they do say, ‘How come you didn’t come to my daughter’s graduation?’”

Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez also noted that the county Board of Supervisors meets once a week and said that with some creative thinking, schedules can be reworked.

But some good governance advocates or government watchdogs criticized the proposal, saying what Angelenos need is more access to their elected officials, not less.

Reducing the number of council meetings “would reduce the public’s ability to weigh in on important decisions made by City Council,” said Carolina Goodman of the League of Women Voters of Greater Los Angeles.

“If anything, the city should be looking for more ways to engage the public,” she added.

Another member of the public called it “shameful” that the council would consider reducing the number of meetings to as low as once per week. Others have criticized the proposal as running counter to the goal of improving government transparency.

Councilmember Bob Blumenfield admitted that council meetings can sometimes be inefficient, but he was concerned that placing this question on the ballot would be akin to a “poison pill” that would “sour” the public on other charter reform measures that are also being proposed for the ballot in November.

In the end, Yaroslavsky and McOsker agreed to wait for the charter reform commission to consider their proposal.

Who’s the Chief Financial Officer? The council also decided that the charter reform commission should weigh in on who the city’s chief financial officer is – or whether one exists currently.

This came after a discussion with City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo and City Controller Kenneth Mejia, both of whom reported that their office already performs duties consistent with the role of a CFO.

Szabo had previously proposed that the city charter be amended to clarify that the chief administrative officer (CAO) is also the city’s chief financial officer (CFO). As the CAO, Szabo advises the mayor’s office and city council on budgetary matters and makes financial forecasts.

But City Controller Mejia, in a letter to the City Council ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, said his office performs many functions that are generally viewed as handled by a CFO.

Some members of the public accused city officials on Tuesday of attempting to undermine the authority of the city controller, which is an elected position, and to grant more power to the chief administrative officer, which is a position appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

Szabo told the council during the meeting that his proposal was only intended to clarify the role of the CAO’s office based on current functions, and that nothing would change in terms of the city controller’s current responsibilities.

Mejia told the council that rather than place this issue on the November ballot, the council should send it to the charter reform commission for further analysis.

“We (the city controller’s office) don’t need to be the CFO. We just believe there needs to be that clarification” either way, Mejia said.

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