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Kayden on Bycel's Firing

November 05, 1995

Re "Does Los Angeles Really Want a Strong Ethics-Code Enforcer?" by Xandra Kayden, Opinion, Oct. 29:

Los Angeles government is consistently bringing new meaning to "shooting oneself in the foot." The latest debacle is the further thwarting of the city Ethics Commission mandate. Under the leadership of Ben Bycel, the Ethics Commission has done its job with vigor and vision. Its members pursued breaches of the public trust regardless of the perpetrator's status.

I guess they stepped on one too many toes. Bycel is now being fired, apparently because he is aggressive and independent. The clear message of this action is distressing. True ethics reform is a low priority, rhetoric to the contrary, and we can expect business as usual in L.A.

JANET K. SMITH

Los Angeles

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I write to respond to the innuendo and explicit attacks on my character and judgment as president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission in Kayden's article. Kayden's suggestion that I am a passive tool of the Riordan Administration--which she alleges has as an objective the dismantling of effective ethics enforcement in L.A.--is uninformed, false and defamatory.

I am a registered Democrat. I have never contributed to Mayor Richard Riordan's political campaigns, nor those of any other elected city official. As outgoing Ethics Commission President Dennis Curtis stated in an interview (Daily Journal, Oct. 16), "She's not aligned with any faction; she's got no political debts she's got to pay." I have long been engaged and committed to aggressive and independent ethics enforcement particularly, and public service generally.

Riordan's views on the merits of Bycel and his controversial tenure as executive director of the L.A. Ethics Commission played no role in my vote on the commission's decision to terminate Bycel. This action was taken because the independent commission felt it was in the best interests of furthering its mission of overseeing objective and thorough enforcement of the ethics laws it is charged with administering. Kayden, who is privy to none of the facts and discussion that attended this confidential personnel matter, is in no position to assess the soundness of this judgment.

My first goal in taking office was to strengthen the Ethics Commission's enforcement power, weakened as a result of our isolation from participation in joint prosecutions with all other enforcement agencies. Since the FPPC severed ties with our agency, the city commission settled only a single money-laundering case, which resulted not from our investigations but because the entity turned itself in. In contrast, the FPPC settled five money-laundering cases in Los Angeles this past summer, collecting fines totaling $100,000--cases in which city ethics also had jurisdiction but took no action.

In assessing my performance on the commission and the commission's enforcement of the ethics laws, I ask only that the community judge us on the record that the commission builds over the coming five years under my leadership. Results--not personalities and uninformed speculations on motivations--are what matter.

RAQUELLE DE LA ROCHA, President

Los Angeles City Ethics Commission

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My experience as a Los Angeles city commissioner convinces me that a commission is not the best method of enforcing ethics because too often commissioners are appointed for the wrong reasons and therefore lack essential background.

A much better approach to ethics enforcement would be to copy the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, which has the authority and responsibility to investigate any county agency or employee. Several hundred citizens are nominated by Superior Court judges, and 25 are chosen by a drawing for the grand jury. This method distances jurors from politics.

Each municipal judge could nominate two prospective jurors, and out of that body 10 or so could be chosen by lot to form a Los Angeles city grand jury. This independent grand jury would have the responsibility of effective ethics enforcement.

GLENN BUCHANAN

Sherman Oaks

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