Seeking stronger transparency and equity in county governance, Westside County Supervisors Lindsey Horvath and Holly Mitchell introduced a measure Tuesday morning that could dramatically reform how Los Angeles county is run. Though down the agenda as Item 13, their proposal will be front of the line for debate in the months to come.

Horvath and Mitchell have proposed the county executive officer submit, within 180 days, a posting for competitive bid among academic consultants who, when selected, would review the following items, according to the meeting agenda:

  • Explore a process for advance review of proposed motions and Board letters in order to increase analysis and the opportunity for public review before they are considered by the Board
  • Review the current policy cluster system and budgeting processes, including suggestions for improvements that will increase efficiency, transparency, and equitable outcomes
  • Develop a procedure for routine evaluations of the County Code, County Charter, and the Board roles and authorities, procedures, and parliamentary processes, enabling a continuous improvement process that ensures that the County’s governing documents and procedures are modernized and align with the ongoing evolution of governance best practices
  • Review potential changes to the structure of the Board, including expansion of the Board to achieve more equitable representation

The last bullet point is sure to stir up the most attention. With only five county supervisors representing over 10 million residents in L.A. County, each supervisor serves a constituency of over two million people. That’s over twice the constituency of a member of Congress or a State Senator. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Board of Supervisors became a landing pad for two previous members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis. Previously, retired County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke had first served in the House. Aside from avoiding constant cross-country flights, coming home as a county supervisor provides that elected leader with immense power.

But Horvath and Mitchell think it absolutely necessary. Said Horvath, in a video released Monday through social media: “You deserve to understand how lawmaking works and how you can be a part of it. This starts with increasing the size of the Board of Supervisors. The 88 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County have unique needs. By increasing the number of elected representatives on the board, residents will have more access, and the county will have more diverse representation.” She added county government reform must also include campaign finance reform and following best practices from around the country. To that end, another point of the motion says:

  • “Instruct the Interim County Counsel, in consultation with the Executive Director of the Anti-Racism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, Chief Executive Office, to report back to the Board in writing in 90 days with recommendations for County campaign finance reforms to advance a more equitable process, including an analysis of adjusting contribution limits, creating a matching funds program for County elections, and establishing fully publicly financed elections, and creating a process for routine review of campaign finance ethics.” (The item was amended to read 180 days in Tuesday’s session).

For public access and transparency purposes, the exact language of the motion also calls for the following:

  • “Direct the CEO, through its Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations Branch, to report back to the Board in writing within 60 days on legislative opportunities that would further amend the Brown Act to:
    • Explicitly allow members of the public to comment remotely at public meetings beyond a designated state of emergency
    • Allow commissions and committees created by the Board to conduct hybrid meetings by convening virtually when a quorum of the body is present in person. Also explicitly allow for remote public comment at these commission and committee meetings.”

Finally, the motion also asks the county executive to report back, in this fiscal year, a budget source for funding the consultant and asks them to consider philanthropic sources of funding.

Earlier in Tuesday’s session, Board Chair Hahn and Supervisor Solis agendized an earlier item, Item 7, that would also explore expanding the number of elected supervisors, but did not include the other reform components. Hahn says she didn’t intend any anxiety with her and Solis’s motion, and in fact thought a report back from county counsel within 90 days, which their measure calls for, would help inform the consultant that the Horvath/Mitchell measure identifies hiring in Item 13.

But Supervisor Mitchell was skeptical of relying on the county counsel, saying, “With all due respect to county counsel, [I] see it very differently which is why Item 13 was crafted the way that it was. I am clear about the role of county counsel in providing counsel in interpreting the law.” She added, “This is different. This is pursuing options that would be potentially taken by this board to qualify an initiative for the ballot to expand the board. And so, from my perspective, it’s no stress – yes I had hoped we could discuss them together – but I see them very differently. The ‘how’ is different in terms of who will lead that effort.” She then concluded that she would therefore abstain from Item 7.

Item 7 ultimately failed 2-0-3, with both Mitchell and Horvath abstaining. They were joined in doing so by Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

Later, when finally speaking to Item 13, Mitchell said, “These issues that have been raised aren’t new, and we’ve heard calls for meaningful governance reform from advocates across the state. So, our goal with our motion today, is that this board proactively take this opportunity to strengthen our constituents’ faith in their local government by exploring ways to improve the county’s governance model so that it better reflects our commitment to equity, transparency, and inclusivity, particularly in the way we make policy decisions and allocate resources.”

Horvath, in support of the motion, said, “We face many significant challenges in the county. Re-examining our work will be beneficial as we move forward in tackling those challenges.” She also suggested that between Items 7 and 13, it is clear there is great public interest in making changes.

For her part, Chair Hahn wanted to see if Mitchell was willing to expand the pool of possible consultants outside of academia. She ultimately was. Hahn also wanted to put a price tag on the full request – particularly the consultant – for budget planning. Ultimately staff said a figure could be returned to once the Executive Office has an opportunity to gather feedback and research the matter.

Solis expressed her belief that campaign finance reform indeed needs studying, but wants it to be done in a larger context. She was just re-elected in November and feels candidates like her need a better understanding of things like Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) guidelines, and other resources she says the county registrar couldn’t provide her.

Ultimately, the item was passed 5-0.

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