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Campaign to Toughen L.A.'s Ethics Laws Stalls : Government: Feuer's bid to bar violators from doing business with the city for up to four years is slowed because of legal concerns.

October 12, 1995|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer's efforts to strengthen the city's anti-corruption rules hit a snag Wednesday when the city attorney's office raised legal concerns over his proposals.

But Feuer, the city's newest councilman who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley, said he was not deterred by the criticism. "None of this is going to hamper moving this forward," he said.

Feuer, who campaigned last summer to add teeth to the city's ethics laws, joined Councilman Joel Wachs last month in a proposal to bar businesses that violate ethics laws from doing business with the city for up to four years. He also proposed banning lobbyists from holding fund-raisers for the officeholder accounts of city lawmakers.

But during a meeting of the council's Rules and Elections Committee, Assistant City Atty. Tony Alperin said the proposal to bar ethics law violators from doing business with the city raises some "legal concerns."

The committee is chaired by Feuer and includes two other council members who were absent Wednesday.

In most cases, city law requires that city contracts be awarded to the business that offers a service or product for the lowest price. Alperin said Feuer's proposal may bar the city from hiring the firm that offers the lowest bid. The city law says the council can give such a contract to another firm only if the council determines that the lowest bidder is not a "responsible bidder."

Although Feuer's proposals would automatically bar firms from getting a contract for violating ethics laws, Alperin said the city may have to determine that a business is "not a responsible bidder" on a case-by-case basis. He said the city may be vulnerable to a lawsuit if the determination is not made on a case-by-case basis.

But Feuer, a Harvard-educated lawyer who ran a legal clinic for eight years, disagreed with Alperin's opinion. "I'm very dubious of that analysis," he said.

Another section of the proposal allows the council to reduce the penalty for firms and individuals who launder campaign contributions if they admit to the violation instead of fighting the charges by calling for a commission hearing. Under Feuer's proposal, those who admit to money laundering can be barred from doing business with the city or lobbying city officials for as little as one year. Those who fight the charge and lose can be barred for four years.

But Alperin said it may be illegal to impose tougher penalties on those who choose to fight such charges. Feuer disagreed, saying that criminals in federal court get lighter penalties if they plead guilty.

Alperin and Feuer agreed to meet to iron out such concerns before the proposals are moved on to the City Council for a final decision.

Ben Bycel, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said his board will review Feuer's proposal next week. However, he added that the commission agrees with Feuer's efforts to stiffen the penalties.

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