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Mayor Vows to Aid Panel on Charter

Politics: Council had barred funds without donors' names. Riordan releases identities of some contributors.

September 12, 1997|TED ROHRLICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mayor Richard Riordan announced Thursday that he would hurdle a City Council roadblock and ride to the financial rescue of the penniless elected charter reform commission that he helped create.

After Riordan said he would see to it that $100,000 of the $300,000 he had promised to raise was turned over to the commission, the names of the donors were released.

The council, supported by the city Ethics Commission, had said that in the interest of clean government, names of donors must be disclosed before it would allow the commission to have any of the money Riordan raised.

Riordan had initially tried to direct $30,000 in privately raised funds to the commission, but the council held up the check, citing its responsibility to approve substantial private contributions that are earmarked for public business.

Riordan's staff said that the names of contributors to a foundation set up by mayoral loyalists, called the Fund for a Better Los Angeles, had not been immediately disclosed because donors had to be contacted to approve releasing their names. Donors had been under the impression that their names would not be made public, Riordan's staff said.

The money will give the elected commission some basics--the ability to move into office space, donated by Wells Fargo at the request of the mayor, get itself a telephone, hire someone to answer it and begin paying its recently selected executive director, municipal law expert C. Edward Dilkes.

Riordan said he hoped that the council would also allocate public funds for the commission, but pledged: "If the commission so requests, I will find the dollars to underwrite the commission's entire budget of $1.3 million."

Commission Chairman Erwin Chemerinsky, a USC law professor, said the mayor underlined in a meeting with him Thursday that "there are no strings attached" to the money, which the commission plans to use to rewrite the document that functions as the city's constitution, allocating some powers to the mayor and other powers to the council.

Chemerinsky also said the mayor emphasized that an additional $200,000--which mayoral associates say is already in the foundation's accounts--is available "as soon as we need it."

However, there were conflicting indications Thursday about whether that money was not being immediately released because its donors had not yet agreed to release their names. The mayor said that he thought all donors had agreed and that all names would be released. But members of his staff said they understood that only some donors had been asked, so only some names would be made public.

Late Thursday afternoon, a lawyer for the fund released the names of six businesses and individuals who had contributed the $100,000 that would be immediately turned over. They are: landfill operator BKK Corp., $25,000; children's television programmer Saban Entertainment, $25,000; a trust in the name of offshore oil company executive Selim K. Zilkha, $25,000; Peter Gold, $15,000; private investment firm Tennenbaum & Co., $5,000; and Robert J. Abernethy, $5,000.

Chemerinsky said he does not yet know where the commission will get the additional $1 million it figures it needs to complete its work and put a rewritten charter on the mid-1999 ballot. But he said he is hopeful that the council will allocate at least some of the funds.

A move by City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg to allocate $350,000 is stalled in the council's rules committee.

Committee member Ruth Galanter opposed the move, noting that Riordan raised $2 million to fund a campaign that created the commission, which is functioning as an alternative to another charter commission that has been appointed and funded by the City Council. "I'm really tired of cleaning up after Dick Riordan, and I'm not going to support this," Galanter said last week.

Goldberg said Thursday that she does not know if a majority of the council will go along with publicly funding a second commission.

"There are a lot of council members who have privately spoken to me and said, 'What are you doing? The mayor put this whole thing together saying he was going to keep it from being tainted by the City Council and so he was going to pay for it once it was elected. So there are a lot of council members who are saying, 'Go ahead and do it Mr. Mayor.' . . . I would rather give them their money and get them started even though I have great sympathy with that other position."

The biggest difference between the two commissions may lie in how they will get their proposed charters before voters. The appointed panel must submit proposed revisions to the City Council. The elected panel's version will go directly before voters. The last serious effort to revise the city's 1925 charter was in 1970, when the council watered down a commission's proposals to reduce council powers and increase mayoral powers. Voters rejected the changes.

Riordan has said he would like to leave a legacy of a streamlined city government, but has yet to provide any specific charter reform proposals. He said Thursday that he will present his ideas to both charter commissions within a month.

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