Message from the Executive Director

As this issue of The Public Trust was being finalized, departmental hearings on the FY08-09 budget before the Council’s Budget and Finance Committee were just beginning. While the Ethics Commission will not be immune from cost-cutting measures to address the City’s budget deficit—estimated to exceed $400 million—we do recognize that responsible stewardship of the public’s resources means that each department, no matter its size, has a job to do. Already in this fiscal year, for example, our staff resources have been reduced.

During these difficult budget times, however, we are working hard to make sure that our severely limited resources effectively target our core mandates. As we work to mitigate the impact of further budget cuts on our staffing and operations, we will be sharply focusing our efforts on the fundamental Charter-mandated work that the voters established for the Ethics Commission:

• sound advice and guidance that are vital to strong compliance;
• clear, practical, and enforceable laws that are developed empirically and collaboratively; and
• accountability that supports the public trust.

As we plan and prioritize our work over the coming months and into the fiscal year that will begin July 1, our efforts will be shaped not only by budget constraints but by several other key dynamics.

First, the upcoming 2009 election will see eight Council races and three Citywide offices decided by the voters. Based on its core mandates, our agency will continue to train, advise, audit, and enforce in connection with these campaigns. In addition, this is the first election in which Los Angeles Unified School District board candidates are also subject to the City’s campaign laws. Timely, thorough, and practical advice about the laws and policies that apply to these campaigns and their supporters will be vital to sustaining the kinds of strong compliance rates we’ve seen in our most recent City elections. [See, for example, our article on audits from the 2007 election cycle in this newsletter.]

Second, we must regularly review the laws under our jurisdiction to ensure they are strong, workable, and effective. We know that laws that are well-intended but not workable in practice, that have truly outlived a once-perceived need, or that are not funded sufficiently to be administered effectively, can be counterproductive and damaging to the public trust. As policy issues surrounding campaigns and governance become more complex, laws proposed in response to those dynamics can also be complex. To ensure that the laws are clear, practical, and enforceable, we believe it is important to develop policy collaboratively and in light of real-world considerations. [For a recent example of this, see our article on Form 52 as an alternative financial disclosure form for neighborhood council boards, also in this newsletter.]

Last, a ‘revolution of rising expectations’ for accessible information that supports meaningful stakeholder engagement is only continuing to escalate. The voters’ mandate for ethics training for City officials and employees, and a maturing neighborhood council movement, are two developments that are expanding the base of ethics stakeholders in the city. At the same time, the demand for timely and relevant information about City ethics laws and how they apply is also increasing. Addressing these needs effectively with clear and specific advice and materials will help equip those involved to be informed participants and sound decision makers. Two additional articles in this newsletter — one on outside employment and another on ethics issues for those considering leaving City service —are intended to be helpful tools to support that goal.

After you’ve read this newsletter, feel free to let me know what you think. I can be reached at leeann.pelham@lacity.org. And thanks in advance for your time and interest.

- LeeAnn

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