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City Hall Ethics Task Force Releases Draft Recommendations; Read Them Here And Comment On Line By Email

Some dissent among Task Force members on Council "discretionary funds"

(June 13, 2002) -- A City Hall appointed Ethics Task Force has released its draft report and is seeking public comment in person and by email (we've posted a direct email address below).

In the public interest, has listed the group's recommendations below and posted the entire draft report (which includes the Task Force reasoning behind its recommendations) in pdf form on a link below. The draft is also downloadable from City Hall's web site.

Two of the more salient items are:

  • Recommended registration and disclosure of lobbying activities and a proposed definition of lobbying;

  • Specific regulations for so-called Council district "discretionary funds," although the Task Force did not not decide and did not recommend whether discretionary funds should be abolished or continued. (This item prompted dissent from some task force members, a minority of whom have indicated they favor abolishing so-called discretionary funds entirely; see discussion, below)

The recommended registration, disclosure and definition of "lobbying" are major issues, but may be eclipsed by "discretionary funds" which have become a hot button issue in recent months. Councilmembers added "discretionary funds" 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. Since "discretionary funds" are a budget item, the entire issue would disappear if the Council in the coming budget cycle simply returned things to the way they were until fairly recently.

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

Some Task Force dissent has also surfaced over the amount of public input that should be received before their report is submitted to the City Council. At a recent public meeting, the Task Force split 6-3 to bring the item to the Council on June 25, which Task Force member Doug Otto said was too short a period for the report to be posted for input. Mr. Otto argued that it called for at least a month with additional public forums for further input.

Some local activists have told that in the past few days they received City Hall mailings, marked "time sensitive" and signed by Task Force Chair Robert W. Parkin, seeking their participation.

Without comment on the merits of the Draft Ethics Task Force Report, we have posted it on line in pdf form, along with a direct email link so you can submit your comments...and with a twist if you choose (see below):

  • To view the draft report in pdf form, click on: Draft Ethics Task Force Report

  • A City Hall release says public comments "will be considered before the report is sent to the City Council for review") and we have provided below a direct link to the email address indicated in the City Hall release and Mr. Parkin's letter. However, since City Hall doesn't say all comments will be included (as they are in EIRs, for example), we will post salient public comments (if they're printable) on if you "cc:" us when you email your comments. The Task Force's comment deadline is June 18. [Since we post, we decide...and reserve the right not to post everything.]. To make sure we get a copy of your comments, just include "" in the cc: field when you click on the following email link:
    Email Comments re Draft Ethics Task Force Report

Your emailed comments will go to directly to Task Force member Doug Otto.

And yes, you can comment on Ethics Commission's Draft Report in person at a public meeting on Tuesday June 18, 2002 at 4:00 p.m. at the LB Public Library Main Branch, 101 Pacific Ave., lower level.

[Begin Draft Task Force Report text]

Draft Ethics Task Force Recommendations

Task Force Majority Supports Regulating Discretionary Funds, Minority Says Abolish them

...At the meeting of the Task Force held on March 13, 2002, City Attorney Robert Shannon stated his opinion that no councilmember had acted unlawfully or in bad faith in allocation of funds, but suggested that discretionary funds violated the spirit of the City Charter and the Municipal Code budget process. He raised concerns about the process involved in the award of such funds, including insufficient public input. Members of the public spoke both in favor and against discretionary funds. Written communications on the topic were also received. The Task Force then assigned the topic to the already established Campaign Activity Committee for further review.

The committee’s recommendation was to "adopt comprehensive regulations for discretionary funds. . . or end all discretionary funds"." The committee’s report (see Appendix D) summarized the concerns that a very serious perception exists that discretionary funds are used by council members for campaign or political advantage, but also noted that funds had been used for worthwhile projects.

The entire Task Force considered the topic and extensively discussed the committee’s report. The Task Force debated whether a decision regarding the existence of discretionary funds is a policy issue for the Council and Mayor rather than an ethical issue which fell within the scope of the Task Force’s assignment. Ultimately, the Task Force, by a majority, adopted the committee’s recommendations for specific regulations regarding discretionary funds.

The Task Force did not decide and did not recommend whether discretionary funds should be abolished or continued. Many members on the Task Force argued strongly that the funds should, indeed, end and, as noted, that was the committee’s alternative recommendation to regulation. There was a spirited debate. It was argued that the funds, while going to good causes, created so much potential for "mischief," gave the appearance of impropriety, and took up so much time at City Council meetings that any benefit that the funds yielded was lost.

Others suggested that the funds were a means of getting city monies to small community groups involved in worthwhile causes that could not or would not otherwise access city funds if they were required to participate in the bureaucracy of the budget process. It should be noted that the Task Force discussions occurred contemporaneously with ongoing City Council and mayoral elections and considerable publicity in the local press regarding the concurrent award of discretionary funds by incumbent City Council members who were running for office.

The eleven recommendations adopted by the Task Force to regulate discretionary funds, if existent, include:

1. Limitation on Recipients. Limits should be made for who (or what organiza-tions) are eligible to apply for discretionary funds. For example, eligible groups may include charitable organizations tax-exempt under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, neighborhood associations in Long Beach, or city departments.

2. Written Applications. Written applications should be required describing specifically how the money would be spent and when the program/ project will be completed. An application must include:

(a) Name and background of proposed recipient
(b) Project description
(c) Expected benefits
(d) Project time frame
(e) Person responsible for the total project

3. District Meetings. Applications for funds should be discussed at a public meeting held in each council district to discuss the merits of the applications received. The City Councilmember who represents the district should preside over the meeting, which may be held in a town hall format.

4. Final Report. At the completion of each project, a final report should be submitted that certifies the objectives were met and provides an accounting for all funds.

5. Status Reports. If the project lasts longer than six months, then semi-annual reports should be required until all funds are spent and a final report is completed and filed.

6. Council Approval/Discussion. All proposed discretionary fund disbursements should be listed as an "action item" on the City Council agenda so they may be discussed by the Council and be subject to public comment.

7. Audit Procedures. The City Auditor or the Department of Financial Manage-ment should be given jurisdiction to audit all discretionary fund allocations to ensure they were spent as appropriated. Audits should be conducted on a specified number of recipients (e.g., 15% of the total each year), on allocations for large amounts (e.g., over $5,000), on allocations where, after review of the final report, discrepancies are found, or any other auditing procedures that makes sense.

8. Public Disclosure of Projects. The City Clerk must maintain a list of all funding approvals (e.g., project description, amount, current status). This list should be included on the City web page.

9. Timing for Allocations. Discretionary funds should be approved only at certain meetings, either quarterly or monthly (subject to black-out period, see below).

10. Black-Out Period. Approval or disbursement of discretionary funds should be prohibited within 90 days before and 60 days after a city election (including special elections), whether or not the councilmember proposing the allocation is up for re-election.

11. Voter Ratification. Although discretionary funds may not violate the letter of the law, some believe it violates the spirit. Therefore, within the next year, Long Beach voters should have the issue presented to them, whether in the form of an advisory vote or actual change to the City Charter or Municipal Code. Only after the voters have approved the method and limits of discretionary funds will the practice be made legitimate.

The Draft Ethics Task Force Report ends with the following conclusion:

The Task Force hopes that the City Council will give serious and prompt consideration to the recommendations provided. The Task Force is convinced that the adoption of these recommendations and adherence to them will foster greater trust by Long Beach residents in their government.

DATED: June 6, 2002

City Hall's appointed Ethics Task Force members are: Honorable Robert W. Parkin (Chair), Ed Barwick, Sandy Blazer, Betty Ann Downing, Richard Green, Pastor Garon Harden, Mario Cordero (Vice Chair), Doug Haubert, Dennis Lord, Douglas W. Otto, Felton C. Williams, Susan E. Anderson Wise

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