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Reforms on the Table for L.A. City Lobbying

August 03, 2003

Re "City Ethics Rules Can't Wait," editorial, July 29: I am one of the many architects, engineers, lawyers, labor representatives and others who volunteer to serve Los Angeles. Many of these professionals also represent clients before city boards other than their own. On April 30, I appeared at an open public hearing before the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission as my client's attorney. City rules classify any paid representative as a "lobbyist." But calling my appearance "lobbying" (implying something clandestine) is a stretch. The West L.A. APC covers a different area and is staffed by different commissioners from the board on which I serve.

I have practiced law for nearly 20 years. I have done pro bono work for the city, served on a historic preservation board and represented clients alongside and against the city. When I was invited to serve, I obtained advice from the city attorney, who wrote that there would be nothing unethical about practicing before other city boards. Agreeing to serve based on this advice cannot fairly be described as "exploiting a loophole."

If professionals were barred from practicing before unrelated city boards, few would be able to serve. The Times may prefer a different policy balance, but innuendo should not be used to suggest impropriety where none is present.

Allan J. Abshez

Los Angeles

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The lobbyist reform package now buried on a technicality actually passed the City Council in January -- in a stronger form. In March, after City Council President Alex Padilla named Councilman Bernard Parks to the committee studying an unrelated provision, Parks took it upon himself to propose upping the level at which council members must recuse themselves from voting because a lobbyist had raised funds for them -- passed by the council at $10,000 -- to $15,000. That undemocratic move to override a majority City Council vote was supported by Padilla. The measure was brought back for a final vote in ordinance form in June and passed again, without a peep from any council member about how the recusal level had been raised by 50%. Council member Jan Perry then successfully maneuvered for a reconsideration, at which time Padilla sent it back to the committee he and Parks sit on, to be heard at a yet-to-be determined date.

The package as it stands today is a minimalist approach. The city Ethics Commission had recommended a more prudent and effective $1,000 recusal level. The two-year history of this much-needed reform measure illustrates why Angelenos have so little trust in City Hall's ability to do what is right. It's time to give the city Ethics Commission more teeth.

Michael Olnick

Sherman Oaks

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