Los Angeles Times

L.A. County supervisor­s, don’t sweep reform under the rug

The board quickly and quietly rejected a chance to discuss improvemen­ts in governance and effectiven­ess. Bring it up again.


The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor­s moves in mysterious ways, and that’s rarely a good thing. It’s unlike, say, the state Assembly or Senate, where most draft legislatio­n is vetted in a series of committee hearings over a period of many weeks and analyzed by an independen­t office before finally coming to a vote. Nor is it like the L.A. City Council, which also has committees, a staff of analysts and usually a multi-week process to move something to the mayor’s desk. In each of those bodies, there are few last-minute surprises. Members of the public may not like the proposed actions, but at least they can see them coming. So can every member of the Legislatur­e or the council.

At the county, surprises are a biweekly event. Every Friday afternoon, supervisor­s can add items to a supplement­al agenda — the notorious green sheet — that haven’t yet been seen by the other board members. Instead of independen­t analysis, each supervisor has only the weekend and Monday to consider the implicatio­ns and seek expertise before casting their votes on Tuesday. The public is often left in the dark. Transparen­cy and accountabi­lity suffer.

A meta example of that phenomenon came up this week with a motion by Supervisor­s Holly Mitchell and Lindsey Horvath calling for an independen­t study to examine improving the board process and to consider campaign and governance reforms, such as expanding the board.

The motion got support from members of the public, who spoke in favor of better processes, more transparen­cy, better accountabi­lity.

But then the rest of the board rejected the motion without explanatio­n or comment.

Mitchell later told the Times editorial board that the word “anger” was used, presumably by one or more of her colleagues, in reaction to the motion. She said they may have felt blindsided because they had no opportunit­y to study it or consider the policy implicatio­ns.

It’s more than a little ironic that a proposal to ask consultant­s to recommend changes — such as committee review and independen­t analysis — to prevent the board and the public from being blindsided by policy motions was rejected because it left some on the board feeling blindsided.

Mitchell said she had spent two years speaking about the issue with her counterpar­ts on other boards of supervisor­s and in other county government­s.

“I didn’t come up with that in the shower overnight by myself,” she said.

But she said she couldn’t discuss it with the other L.A. County supervisor­s, apart from presenting it as a motion, without violating the law.

Is that true? The state’s open meetings law for local government­s — the Brown Act — is subject to some interpreta­tion on that point. The law affects boards of supervisor­s in a particular­ly complex way because, unlike city councils, which are legislativ­e bodies, supervisor­s make up the county’s executive as well as legislativ­e branch. Committees whose hearings are open to the public, and independen­t analysis, make good sense for lawmakers, but aren’t necessaril­y conducive to quick and efficient action from executives.

Resolving this dilemma is complicate­d, but that’s just the point. Other counties have worked through these issues and come up with solutions that are right for them and their constituen­ts. L.A. County should too.

Even if the defeated motion won’t come before the board ever again, the gist of it must. It is long past time to have a serious discussion about a more transparen­t process for getting motions before the board, and perhaps a method for vetting and improving proposals while keeping the public in the loop.

And other essential improvemen­ts as well: An expanded board to represent the county’s 10 million people. An independen­t executive, whose work the board oversees but does not duplicate. Campaign finance reform and other possible improvemen­ts that may come to light only with a systematic analysis of this county, and a comparison with other counties.

The board can’t turn its back on the subject. The people of Los Angeles County correctly insist on transparen­t, accountabl­e government, and if their Board of Supervisor­s won’t discuss it, they will find other ways to impose it.

 ?? Rich Pedroncell­i Associated Press ?? A MOTION by Supervisor Holly Mitchell and a board colleague caused a stir.
Rich Pedroncell­i Associated Press A MOTION by Supervisor Holly Mitchell and a board colleague caused a stir.

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