On March 11, 2020 Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez sent a letter to her colleagues announcing that in response to the coronavirus emergency Council would meet weekly for the rest of the month. The Los Angeles City Charter at §242 gives the Council the sole power “to organize its business [and] prescribe the rules of its proceedings” subject only to a couple of limitations. But one of these limitations is directly on point and requires Council to meet at least three times a week with no exceptions:
The Council shall hold regular meetings at least three days each week. Meetings may be held in City Hall or elsewhere in the City. By resolution, the Council may establish periods during which the Council or its committees will be in recess.
Three meetings a week are required by the Charter. And the office of Council President is established by the Charter as well, at §243, but the only power granted there is to replace the mayor when necessary. All other powers of the Council president are granted by the Council Rules. And obviously the rules can’t override the Charter.
Note that §242 does give the Council itself the power to go into recess, and probably the Council could choose to go into recess except on Tuesdays, but this power must be exercised by resolution, not by the unilateral decree of the Council President. Resolutions require a vote of the full Council, to be placed on a publicly posted agenda, and public comment accepted.
I’m not sure what penalties there are, if any, for violations of the Charter, but it’s surely a violation of the oath of office, found at §215, which includes the City Charter among the laws that Councilmembers are sworn to support. It’s true that extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, and that elected officials need extraordinary powers during emergencies. But extraordinary powers are extraordinarily dangerous and must be limited by law, which Martinez has exceeded here.
And speaking of the Charter and its limitations, remember when CD14 rep Jose Huizar’s house got raided by the FBI and in response Herb Wesson, Council President at the time, removed him from all his committees? It’s true that the Charter, at §242(b), grants the President the power to appoint members to committees, but it also requires that each Councilmember be on at least one committee. So Wesson too apparently violated his oath of office:
The President of the Council shall appoint the members and the chair of the committees and each Council member shall be appointed to at least one committee.
I’m not sure what can be done about this pervasive outlawry at 200 N. Spring Street other than to keep watching it and reporting on it. But I certainly will keep doing that!
Image of Queen for life Nury Martinez, Supreme Commander of 200 N Spring Street, is ©2020 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and there’s always something like this something somewhere.