Thursday, February 04, 2010

L.A. City Council's "discretionary" funds, or just good old slush funds?

"L.A. budget analyst's report shows council's off-budget accounts,"
February 3, 2010 3:48 pm L.A. Times, -- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall

What was that? More money that no one mentioned earlier? Well, Mr. Santana knew of it and from the description, it's simply a slush fund. From the story:

As the Los Angeles City Council debated how to close a budget shortfall that is
expected to grow to nearly $484 million next fiscal year, the city’s top budget
analyst for the first time identified more than $30 million in accounts
controlled by City Council members that are generally kept off the
books—reserved for special projects in their districts.

Yes, it's like the reported $3 million that each one of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors get each year, but here it's 15 CMs getting $2 million each.

And you know what, Wendy Greuel as the Controller was talking this week against dipping into the reserve fund and how that would hurt the city credit rating, not to mention take out a big chunk that might be needed later But as a rainy day fund that might be a consideration, consider that it's raining for the city budget purposes.

Wendy WAS a council member up until July last year when she took over as City Controller, so the existence of the money could be no suprise to her but she never mentioned it's existence to my knowledge.

Keeping secrets? Oh, well, what else is new? This was like the money Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas had as the County's five Supervisor's get about $3million apiece each year to do with as they may, but with the idea being that it's for a public purpose. Ridley-Thomas must have thought that meant that spending was ok if it was done in a public building. His request of over $700,000.00 to remodel his office was first approved unanimously by the full board, then the public heard of this absolute waste of good money by a foolish politician, and then it was rescinded with little fanfare. The other 4 Supervisors were as bad as Ridley-Thomas in letting it happen to begin with but- and again- you know the drill: "We won't block your request and you won't block ours" and that's the way it is with any notions of checks and balances among peers. It just doesn't happen by nature- it has to be artificially done by citizens blowing the whistle on them.

It is the same thing with the City Council, except there's more of them to be watched. Again, I refer you to that symbol of harmony and co-existence, the UNANIMOUS VOTE, that is so pervasive in the Council Chambers as the clerk takes the vote. That happens often after public commment on the agenda item and sometimes its done so fast after the last speaker is done, that it's got to look like they didn't even pay attention to any of what was said. And you know what? That's just what it is. Most things are a "Done deal" before any CM even gets into the Council Chambers; they might as well have phoned it in. This is one of the rare situations in City Council where what it looks like is actually what it is.

You get a better deal in court where usually your papers are read by the judge before dealing out the decision. When you have a motion, in the civil area, at least, there is a sort of preview of what the decision will be that's given to the two sides of the argument, a "tentative decision" that is usually posted at the court doorway and clerk's desk. In those situations it's really the judge tellling you, "This is what I am going to do unless you can convince me to do something different." Then you at least have somebody hearing you out.

But City Council more or less rubber stamps the earlier produced recommendations of their committees (fellow CMs) or the wishes of whoever made the motion (also a fellow CM) and unless you have a busload of agitated people to breathe down their necks as they complain during public comment, you won't get noticed. The more people that show up, the less of a rational argument you will need to demonstrate in order to have your position gain favor. At least that's the way it looks to me.

But if the Council Members' slush fund was not mentioned in CAO Santana's reports, when would any one of them cough it up? Your guess is as good as mine if you have noticed what I have written all along on this blog. One thing I like about Santana is that he's pretty easy to understand because he speaks slowly and clearly and doesn't get too excited.

Side note: The typist who types out the words on a screen for the deaf or hearing impaired members of the audience at the Council meeting has a pretty good time keeping up with Santana's part of the meetings. Unfortunately for him, some of the other speakers rattle off things so fast and less clearly that they put that same typist guy into overdrive and it's really hit and miss affair as he tries to keep up with the speaker. I wondered if he was familiar with the jargon terms used in City Hall setting. I sat nearby on Monday and marvelled at his just his sheer speed in making the attempt to keep up with the speakers all by himself. Of course if you relied only on the screen text for following the course of the meeting, you would often be puzzled but it's describing the meeting, more or less. Even the sign language interpreters had a sort of tag-team like in wrestling so they could rest for a while as the next sign language interpreter takes over.

LATE NEWS: The mayor- yes, he seems to still be in town- has announced at a press conference that he's ordering that 1,000 layoffs of employees be laid off now. What he says and what actually happens may or may not match. I expect that the unions will file some sort of legal challenge to stop this, or maybe there will be another backroom deal to put it on hold like the Council decided yesterday. They set 30 days within which to get their actions sorted out. Good luck- who else is hiding money?