THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: Council members reveal arrogance of power

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Columnist

Former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez resigned her post Oct. 10. Almost certainly she will resign her spot on the council.

(Editor’s Note: She resigned from the City Council Oct. 12.)

The pressure is just too great, the outcry too loud, and the racial inflammatory slurs she uttered are simply to appalling to render her anything but disgraced and polarizing.

The same demands for ouster will not go away for Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León who uttered slurs or did and said nothing about them. The harsh truth is there is plenty of blame for Martinez and the other two to spread around.

Start with the City Council. It is a big, rich (highest paid in the country), cozy, secretive, political textbook good old boy and girl chummy club. It is almost like we’ve seen them out there so long, there’s a coziness and familiarity with them, but that coziness and familiarity is in name only.

The concept of participant stakeholder power sharing and representation is almost an alien concept to more than a few council persons.

That is patently clear in their pronounced penchant for closed-door secrecy. In the past they have been raked over the coals for their behind-closed-doors deals on contracts, services and vital spending measures, with little disclosure, or need to make any public disclosure.

That was on display in their neat, clubhouse-like decision on redistricting. They and they alone made the final decisions on who and what will go where in realigning the 15 council districts. Even when there were protests about diminished political power and representation from African Americans and other groups, the decision on the redistricting lines still stood.

That was a major reason why Martinez, Cedillo and de León felt they could denigrate and disparage Blacks and even some Latinos with impunity. They had the power, and they did not have to really answer to anyone on the issue, even with an audiotape going.

It is called the arrogance of power. The council bestowed that on them.

The council meets two or three times a week and much of their open public and televised sessions are filled with perfunctory ceremonial, often self-congratulatory, banter and commendations. The hard stuff is done behind closed doors.

That is a big reason why legions of L.A. voters scratch their heads in puzzlement whenever they are asked just what exactly do the council persons do?

City voters are not blameless in this sorry little drama with Martinez and company. The turnout in city elections is abysmal.

So it is no surprise that the same faces pop up over and over year in and year out on the council after scoring a walkover reelection. The incumbents have the money, the name, voter apathy and usually no name recognition or financed challengers that guarantee their easy win.

They bank on voter apathy and know there is minimal transparency and accountability demanded. They know they will not have to do more than the minimum for appearances sake on the big-ticket issues that face the city.

Those include run-away overdevelopment, the monumental lack of affordable housing, rampant gentrification, out-of-control homelessness, LAPD reform measures, a sensible traffic and transit management plan to end the city’s monstrous traffic gridlock and radical expansion of public and mental health services.

The need is for a big, bold, sweeping overhaul of the way L.A. city politicians do taxpayers’ business. That means transparency, accountability and an end to back-room, sweetheart deals with developers and special interest groups that terribly mar city government.

There have been complaints and court challenges in past against the city for not adhering to the provisions of the Brown Act that require extensive public disclosure of council actions. The City Council long ago should have provided residents with an open public window on all executive meetings, deliberations and decision-making, especially the awarding of all contracts.

The council should conduct independent public audits and immediate public disclosure of every cent of the multi-billions of dollars the council authorizes and spends on projects in L.A. There should be a Citizens Accountability Committee to propose and review all decisions on spending, budgeting and planning by the council.

The council should ensure citizen and public interest groups review innovative solutions for meaningful oversight of the LAPD, the L.A. Fire Department, and the L.A. Controller’s Office, effective transit and traffic movement, major expansion of moderate- to low-income housing, new strategies for combatting homelessness, the fight for a living wage, a full green energy agenda and other major crisis issues.

The outing of Martinez, de León and Cedillo offers voters the rare opportunity to ask tough questions of the council about its administration, spending, planning and most important secret, back-room deal-making. The council must be transformed into a beacon for open, clean, city government.

It was the absence of this that made a Martinez, Cedillo and de León possible. Put bluntly, many hands created the three and all those hands point back to a dysfunctional, corrupt, arrogant council and legions of L.A. voters by their lack of engagement and voting made them possible.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming The Midterms: Why They Are So Important and So Ignored” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.