One day after the Los Angeles City Council voted to create an advisory governmental reform panel, four council members Wednesday lashed out at Mayor Richard Riordan's efforts to personally finance the election of a competing group.
"The mayor continues to use his pocketbook and continues to use his colleagues to disrupt this council as it tries to get itself together," said Councilman Mike Hernandez, who joined council members Ruth Galanter, Rita Walters and Rudy Svorinich Jr. in criticizing the mayor.
The four council members, who supported creating the appointed advisory panel, accused Riordan of using his personal wealth to try to exclude the council from playing a role in government reform.
"We believed that part of our assigned responsibility as the legislative government of the city is to take a look at how government works and participate in any decisions to change that," said Galanter, who revived a 1990 proposal for an advisory panel.
The 21-member advisory panel would be appointed by the council, the mayor and other elected officials and would have up to three years to draft reform ideas. The council, however, would retain the authority to put those ideas on the ballot or reject them.
The charges leveled during a City Hall news conference signaled an early start to what is expected to become a bitter, politicized battle over government reform in Los Angeles.
Riordan has criticized the council's advisory panel, saying it cannot propose true reform unless it is independent of the government's vested interests--namely, the City Council.
Instead, he is personally financing a signature-gathering drive to create an elected reform panel that would have the power to put its ideas directly on the ballot, without requiring the council's approval.
In an interview, Riordan spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez shrugged off the criticism of the mayor, calling it "attempts to distract from the real issue, which is having a true citizens' voice for reforming the city charter."
She acknowledged that the debate over how to launch reform of the city's governing charter has turned nasty, but said the mayor tried to reach a compromise with the council to create an appointed panel with the power to put its reform measures directly on the ballot. That idea--backed by Councilmen John Ferraro and Mike Feuer--was rejected in favor of Galanter's proposal.
"There is a fight in place and it's a fight for the people of Los Angeles so they can have a responsible city government," Rodriguez said.
Riordan's petition drive was launched last month in an attempt to collect 350,000 signatures by Oct. 30. He has declined to say how much he will contribute to the cause, but supporters say the campaign is expected to cost about $80,000.
Rick Taylor, a campaign consultant in charge of the petition drive, declined to say how many signatures have been collected but said the campaign is a week ahead of schedule.
"I'm absolutely confident that we will have an adequate amount of signatures to let the voters decide on charter reform," he said.
If successful, the measure would be placed on the April ballot, accompanied by the names of candidates for the the panel. Sources have said that Riordan is already considering backing a slate of his hand-picked candidates for the panel.
The reform movement is the latest of several attempts over the past 20 years to overhaul the 71-year-old charter, which acts as the city's constitution. This latest reform movement was led by San Fernando Valley business leader David Fleming in response to threats of a Valley secession.
Fleming, who also heads the city's Fire Commission, echoed Riordan's concerns about the council's advisory panel, calling it "a step backwards."
Despite criticism from Riordan and Fleming, Galanter said Wednesday that she is not interested in amending her proposal to give the reform panel the power to put its ideas directly on the ballot.
She also suggested that the council may be willing to only put a few charter reform ideas on the ballot at a time because she fears voters may reject a massive, confusing package.
The hostile atmosphere also soured Feuer's enthusiasm about charter reform. Feuer, who had expressed hope that Galanter's appointed panel could generate some ideas, said he is no longer optimistic about the future of reform in the city.
"It would be a real shame if a genuine push for reform gets bushwhacked by mayor and council acrimony," he said.
He also questioned whether Galanter and other council members are serious about government reform or are only interested in winning a political battle with Riordan.
"It's becoming clear to me that the council majority has hijacked charter reform," he said.