Editorial: Questions about L.A. Ethics Commission appointee

Maybe at one other time the nomination of Alex Johnson to the Los Angeles Ethics Fee wouldn’t have raised eyebrows.

Usually, political appointments to Los Angeles’ commissions are hardly ever controversial and confirmations are routine. That features the nominations to the five-member Ethics Fee, which is the watchdog over the town’s elected officers and enforces marketing campaign finance, contracting, lobbying and battle of curiosity legal guidelines.

However final month, the Metropolis Council balked at Metropolis Controller Kenneth Mejia’s decide for the Ethics Fee, ostensibly as a result of she beforehand labored as a fundraiser for political campaigns. That was cited by a number of council members as problematic as a result of the fee regulates marketing campaign finance. The nominee, Jamie York, was voted down 14-0 in a uncommon rejection of an appointment. Mejia hasn’t mentioned whether or not he’ll renominate her or decide another person.

Then, final week, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson nominated Johnson, who’s a vice chairman at Bryson Gillette, a political consulting and public affairs agency that works with candidates working for metropolis and college board workplaces. Filings present the agency has dealt with greater than $2 million value of labor for numerous political campaigns since Could 2020, together with an impartial expenditure committee for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Instances reporter Julia Wick wrote.

There’s nothing within the Metropolis Constitution that will bar Johnson from serving. To his credit score, he mentioned he’s already consulted with the town legal professional’s workplace and fee employees about the right way to handle conflicts that may come up together with his agency and its shoppers, and would “train all due diligence and recuse myself as vital.”

Nonetheless, when his nomination involves the council for a affirmation vote it ought to lift simply as a lot scrutiny because the final nominee due to the bigger questions in regards to the independence of the town’s political watchdog and the right way to restore public belief in authorities after a sequence of public corruption scandals.

Ought to an individual employed by a agency that works on campaigns regulated by the Ethics Fee be serving on the Ethics Fee? Ideally, no.

In a metropolis of 4 million folks, certainly there are quite a lot of individuals who could make smart judgments on ethics insurance policies and enforcement and who wouldn’t have a possible battle of curiosity. The issue isn’t that such folks don’t exist — it’s that they don’t get nominated. Elected officers are typically on the lookout for like-minded allies who’ve expertise with and maybe sympathy for these navigating ethics rules, and who might not search the hardest reforms. (Greater than her previous fundraising work, York’s rejection was most likely pushed by her push for stronger lobbying and marketing campaign finance guidelines.)

The Ethics Fee’s dimension and composition are important to reform and needs to be on the agenda in Metropolis Corridor. Different cities, together with Oakland and Lengthy Seaside, reserve some ethics fee seats for nonpolitical appointments who aren’t chosen or confirmed by the folks they regulate. And a few have set {qualifications} for political appointees, such expertise working in native governance, public coverage, marketing campaign finance or the safety of whistleblowers. These appointees then decide the remaining members from citizen purposes. That creates a broader pool of candidates from outdoors the Metropolis Corridor community, and doubtlessly a extra impartial fee.

As of now, the Ethics Fee stays unable to conduct its enterprise. The fee canceled its August assembly and can’t determine enforcement instances or transfer ahead coverage proposals due to three vacancies on the five-member board. If Johnson is appointed, the fee can lastly start to fulfill once more. Regardless of the council decides on Johnson, the larger downside stays — L.A. wants a stronger, extra impartial Ethics Fee, and it’s going to take political will and voter approval to make it occur.