What exactly Public Works Commissioner Andrea Alarcon did on the night of Nov. 16 remains under investigation. But this much is known: Her 11-year-old daughter was found unattended at City Hall that night, and Alarcon did not come to pick her up until 2 a.m., after the girl had been taken to the Los Angeles Police Department's Central Division. Moreover, it's not the first time that Alarcon's capacity as a parent has come into question. Last year, she was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, and authorities charged her with child endangerment as well because her daughter was in the car. She has pleaded not guilty in that case, and has not been charged with anything in the most recent incident.
Alarcon's situation has created a predictable stir at City Hall, in no small part because she not only holds a position of public trust — public works commissioners oversee an annual budget of nearly $2 billion, and she is paid $130,000 a year — but she's also the daughter of Councilman Richard Alarcon. Andrea Alarcon has taken a leave from her post to "seek professional help and treatment." She's entitled to sick days, and is using them.
Some of her critics — and those of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who appointed her to the position — have called on Alarcon to resign. Her behavior, they argue, is unfitting for a public official. But is it?
It may turn out that Alarcon has compromised her public responsibilities — that whatever problems warrant help and treatment may have undermined her judgment to the extent that she has mismanaged public projects or misspent public money. If that were the case, her resignation would be required.
Thus far, however, she is accused only of recklessness with respect to her daughter, a serious matter to be sure but a sad family matter, not one of public corruption or malfeasance. Yes, there are instances in which a public official's private conduct can render him or her unfit for service. The official who goes to jail certainly cannot continue to serve, and charges of public corruption — witness former county Assessor John Noguez, accused of adjusting the tax assessments of his supporters — often render an official unfit to hold office.
The case is murkier when the charge is personal and the potential misconduct is unrelated to public duty. Some public officials do their jobs perfectly well, then leave the office and have a few too many drinks. Sometimes they even get behind the wheel. That's dangerous, illegal and wrong. But should it cost them their office? Not always.