Government Reform


Los Angeles City Council members are the nation's highest paid, at $178,789 per year. The part-time Washington, D.C., council is next at $130,538. New York's part-time council makes $121,725.

The L.A. council costs the most per seat, $1.7 million, employs staff of more than 300, and each member receives a car (with parking meter immunity) and a $100,000 yearly taxpayer-financed slush fund.

Having a part-time council in Los Angeles would benefit city governance. In addition to savings, a part-time council provides access to a more diverse field of professionals. A part-time council takes advantage of talent and experience from outside City Hall - and City Hall could use a daily dose of the real world.

There are examples of successful part-time councils all over L.A. County and the nation. Six of the 10 largest cities in the nation have part-time councils: New York, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas. Of the remaining four with full-time councils, one is in Philadelphia and three are in California - Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose - one of the most mismanaged states in the nation.

As part-time, the L.A. City Council would be transformed from body of full-time politicians looking to benefit personally from high salaries, huge staffs and perks into one that draws significant contributions from its members.

The full-time L.A. council only works part-time anyway. Records obtained through the California Public Records Act show schedules filled with "excused" absences or early leaves. The L.A. council appears to work on a rotation schedule, enabling it to conduct business with the minimum members needed for a quorum while allowing the maximum time off for all of its members.

Has the full-time L.A. council been successful? That's a question political observers are examining.

Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in July that "Los Angeles today is a city in secular decline. Its current political leadership seems determined ... to leave behind a dense, government-dominated, bankrupt, dysfunctional Athens by the Pacific."

Since 2005 there have been numerous council failures even at the most basic level. In just two examples, council members admitted that they did not know what digital billboards were before unanimously approving them, and they adopted a moratorium on medical marijuana facilities to cap them at 186 - yet the number of dispensaries grew to almost 1,000.
It is the full-time nature of the L.A. council itself that has likely led to its presiding over one of the most corrupt city governments in the country.

Examples of such systemic corruption include a number of scandals at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (a credit card scam, overtime abuse and strip-club visits by employees on the job), free tickets to entertainment events accepted by elected officials, and misdeeds throughout the Animal Services Department (including the illegal sale of stolen shelter animals and a time card scandal). Currently, the Housing Department and Building and Safety are under investigation by the FBI.

At least half of the council members have faced allegations of conflict of interest or other ethical improprieties. More corruption is evidenced by the Center for Governmental Studies' report, "Money and Power in the City of Angels," which found that the L.A. Council votes unanimously more than 99 percent of the time.

"The nearly perfect unanimous voting record of Los Angeles City Council makes it almost impossible to detect linkages between campaign contributions and council legislative decisions. If any relationship does exist, it is hidden behind closed doors," the report notes.

A part-time council would significantly reduce conflicts and other forms of corruption. For example, with a part-time council, it is much more obvious where potential conflicts exist because it will be widely known which industry, business or company each member works with outside of their council capacity. With a full-time council, such conflict lines are not as clearly drawn. Furthermore, part-time council members with other careers will be less inclined, and likely less able, to fall victim to the attraction of the extended taxpayer-funded boondoggle. (Recall NBC4's exposure of council members' extensive travel on the taxpayer dime?)
Finally, a part-time council member who has another career to return to after his or her term ends will be less likely to make decisions based on election to the next higher office than as a full-time council member whose only source of income is from elective office.

Critics argue that there's not enough time to get things done with a part-time council. But there are numerous examples around the country and county of part-time councils effectively and efficiently governing big and complex cities.

For example, Long Beach's part-time council has made significant infrastructure improvements, including extensive street repaving and neighborhood beautification, all while enjoying a business tax burden significantly lower than L.A.'s. New York City's part-time council continues to contribute to its reduction in crime with the recent swearing in of 1,600 new police officers, while L.A. struggles to maintain its current level of police staffing. In a challenging national economy, Dallas' part-time council has seen significant population and job growth in its city, and 85 percent of Dallas' businesses rate the city as a "good" or "excellent" place to do business.

It is the full-time status itself that leads to failure. The high salaries, slush funds, bloated staffs, and attractive perks all come from the council's full-time status. Part-time status removes such poisonous elements and incentives for corruption and promotes a volunteer, civic-minded approach to local governance. And that will attract a different type of candidate with a more diverse base of experience.

Too Much Time On Their Hands

Putting LA City Council On the Clock

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Paid for by Kevin James for Mayor 2013
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