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News in Depth

City Hall Web Site Doesn't Disclose Or Post Dissenting Views on Council "Discretionary Funds" By Four Members -- One Third -- of Council Appointed Ethics Comm'n; We Post Majority AND Dissenting Reports

Independent Neighborhood Activist Bry Myown Submits Detailed Recommendations Calling For Sweeping Reforms; We Post Her Written Recommendations Verbatim

(July 6, 2002) -- LB City Hall's official web site includes a link to the majority version of the "Final Report Long Beach Ethics Task Force" but doesn't post or disclose the existence of dissenting reports on the issue of Council "discretionary funds" by a third of the Ethics Commission's Council-approved members.

In the public interest, posts links to both the majority and dissenting reports, below.

Meanwhile, veteran neighborhood activist Bry Myown (not a member of the Commission) has charged that a majority of the Council selected Commission effectively used the issue of "discretionary funds" at a recent public meeting to avoid seriously considering public input on implementation of recommended actions and the need for more sweeping reforms.

In detailed written testimony submitted to the Ethics Commission (to date without public response), Ms. Myown's recommendations (which we post in full below) go beyond those of City Hall's appointees. Ms. Myown calls for greater public access to public records, including placement of a Sunshine Initiative on a citywide ballot; extending conflict of interest recommendations to part-time employees and elected officials; creating a review and audit process for Economic Disclosure filings and requiring them for potential Commission appointees before appointments are approved by the City Council and for "quasi-public agencies" such as the Aquarium of the Pacific Board of Directors and the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors.

Ethics Commission members were approved by Councilmembers last year and tasked to prepare a report for Council reivew. Efforts to create an Ethics Commission with enforcement powers failed when concerns raised by some Councilmembers (notably 4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll) prevailed in restricting the Commission to delivering a written report.

The results of the Council-appointed Ethics Commission process to date are as follows:

As of July 5th, City Hall web site advises in pertinent part, "The full text of 'The Final Report of the Long Beach Ethics Task Force' (minus appendices) is provided...The appendices are too voluminous to include..." and lists a phone number where they may be obtained.

It doesn't mention that four of the Commission's twelve members dissent from the Final Report. Three Commission members (Haubert, Barwick, Williams) joined in one dissent, and Commission member Otto filed a separate dissent, all on the issue of so-called Council district discretionary funds.

In the public interest, posts links to both the "Final Report" and the dissenting reports in Section 1, below.

We post the text of Ms. Myown's Ethics Recommendations in full in Section 2, below.

1. Dissent on City Council Discretionary Funds

So-called Council discretionary funds became a hot button issue in the recent election cycle. Councilmembers added the item to their budget a few years ago, collectively giving themselves $1.35 million to spend, divided by nine Council incumbents, each of whom can allocate $150,000 to groups or projects they deem worthy (usually in their own districts) subject to publicly voted approval by the full Council.

Discretionary funds, defended by some as directing resources to needs best known to the district's Councilmember, were criticized by some who said incumbents gave themselves an unfair advantage in handing out taxpayer money to prospective voters (or, at minimum, creating this impression).

Since discretionary funds are a budget item, the issue would disappear entirely if the Council in the coming budget cycle simply returned things to the way they were until relatively recently.

The Ethics Commission's Final Report did not decide or recommend whether discretionary funds should be abolished or continued; it proposed regulations for them instead, adding that "within the next year, Long Beach voters should have the issue of discretionary funds presented to them, whether in the form of an advisory vote or actual change to the City Charter or Municipal Code."

Dissenting Commission members recommended that the Council end so-called discretionary funds entirely.

The controversy over Council discretionary funds has eclipsed a potentially larger issue in the the Ethics Commission final report: recommended registration and disclosure of lobbying activities and a proposed definition of lobbying.

The Ethics Commission's report is scheduled for discussion at the June 23 Council meeting which will be held in the 8th district at the Petroleum Club, 3636 Linden Ave. at 6:00 p.m.

2. Call For Implemetation and Other Reforms
Text of Recommendations by Independent Activist Bry Myown

June 18, 2002

Long Beach Ethics Task Force
c/o Long Beach City Clerk
333 West Ocean Boulevard
Long Beach CA 90802


I would like to thank you for your interest in the subject matter and the work you have put into making these recommendations. The issue of ethics reform is very important to me, and I regret you have allowed yourselves only one week to respond to today's public comments prior to forwarding your report to the City Council. My foremost concern, therefore, is that this body or a successor body should continue as a source of ongoing recommendations concerning matters of public ethics.

Public perception concerning official conduct is limited by our access to and by the adequacy, timeliness and accuracy of public information. As you know, these issues are largely regulated by the California Public Records and Brown Acts, which set the minimum standards to which local jurisdictions must conform. I believe that outside very narrowly defined circumstances, the presumption of access should be on the side of the public, and I strongly urge this body to

  • incorporate broader provisions for municipal ownership of official records, records retention timeframes and public records access;
  • create a process to audit sunshine compliance;
  • create an administrative process that allows the public to challenge sunshine right denials without resorting to costly and lengthy court battles;
  • provide guidelines that deem violation of public records and open meeting laws to constitute official misconduct; and
  • urge the City Council to place a Sunshine Initiative on a citywide ballot.

    I would urge you to reconsider recommendations concerning the potential conflict of interest posed by outside employment as they pertain to part-time employees and specifically as they pertain to elected officials. In particular, I am concerned by a recent situation in which a sitting Council member is also employed by the Lieutenant Governor. State law recognizes the competing interests between various governmental jobs by forbidding individuals from holding two elected offices. It follows in my mind that employment of one elected official by another may also cause a conflict. In this situation, the Lieutenant Governor may act in the Governor's place, preside over the Senate and cast tie-breaking votes, all of which may conflict with the City's Legislation and Environmental Affairs agenda. Most notably, the Lieutenant Governor sits on the State Lands Commission with whom the City regularly negotiates significant matters pertaining to port properties, oil and gas leases and natural gas costs. By copy of this letter, I am requesting an opinion of the City Attorney on whether this poses a conflict that requires recusal from voting on certain matters. I urge this body to

  • extend conflict of interest recommendations to part-time employees and elected officials; and
  • clarify whether overlapping political/legislative positions pose a conflict.

    I am troubled by your recommendations concerning Item 18, Financial Disclosure. Your report indicates that state laws are already highly complex, technical and fact-based and that it is doubtful additional regulation will provide benefit that outweighs the burden. In fact, State law mandates filing requirements for certain officials and agencies but leaves most, including employees and commissioners, up to the local agency's conflict of interest code. Long Beach has not codified its conflict of interest requirements but relies instead on internal policies. Schedules A and B are only reviewed biennially by the Council, often in incomplete form. The public is often at a loss to understand how or why decisions are made regarding who must file and may not see filings until long after appointments and hiring decisions are made. I urge you to:

  • recommend codification of the City's conflict of interest policies;
  • create a more stringent review and audit process for Economic Disclosure (Form 700) filings;
  • require Form 700 filings of potential Commission appointees before appointments are approved by the City Council;
  • adopt recommendations concerning conflicts of interests as they pertain to outside contractors;
  • increase the lead time to mandate more than 72-hour notice of Commission appointees and contract awardees;
  • require "quasi-public agencies" such as the Aquarium of the Pacific Board of Directors and the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors to file.

    I appreciate your recommendations concerning lobbyists but would also like to see them broadened. As you know, many individuals who work as campaign consultants or fundraisers also do entitlement and public relations work between election cycles and must therefore represent companies (that are often donors) in front of those for whom they also provide campaign services. In addition, the cost of their private non-campaign consulting also has the appearance of having been offset by incentives or subsidies given to those on whose behalf they lobby. Finally, many such individuals may make donations to officials "pet charities." I urge you to make recommendations similar to those promulgated by the Los Angeles Ethics Commission that would

  • bar officials from acting on issues involving lobbyists who have doubled as their campaign consultants or fundraisers within a specified preceding time period; and
  • prohibit elected officials from acting on issues involving lobbyists who have donated to nonprofit organizations at the officials' behest.

    Finally, in what may seem like a small matter, I am concerned that legislative staff is routinely used to provide constituent services or act as the interface with City departments in matter that may politicize service delivery. I see no reason why the public should need to call a legislative office to obtain services already guaranteed and provided by general fund spending and further, if the service delivery is dysfunctional, it is the dysfunction that should be addressed by Council action. There is an extremely easy solution that would save so much staff time and legislative budget that I can't believe it was not done long ago. Please,

  • recommend a functional telephone decision tree system, or even non-legislative City staff, to direct callers to the appropriate City Departments.

    Thank you so much for your hard work on these issues.


    Bry Laurie Myown

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