You know how you go to a Los Angeles City Council meeting and all the action seems scripted and predetermined? That’s not an illusion. Obviously they decide everything in advance, or they did before everything changed last year. And this is completely illegal in California per the Brown Act1 but it is so freaking hard to catch them at it!
Not impossible, though. Scope this Sunday, June 21, 2020 email from LAPD City Council liason Harry Eddo to Chief Michel Moore discussing some of this summer’s flood of cop reform motions, these scheduled for the Wednesday, June 24, 2020 meeting of the Ad Hoc Police Reform Committee. Apparently it’s part of Eddo’s job to track such motions, ones that potentially affect LAPD, and help Moore plan responses.
Which by the way brings up an important question — why does LAPD have a person doing this job at all? If the idea is that the police are an instrument of civilian public policy, controlled by elected civilians to carry out the public’s purposes, then it’s hard to justify spending public money paying staff to monitor and influence the source of control. It almost looks like the LAPD is more concerned with institutional survival and control rather than with doing their jobs.2
So Eddo talks to Council staff, which I guess is what liasons do. And they talk back to him. And apparently, on June 21, 2020 or before, he talked to folks from the office of then-Chair Herb Wesson, who told him exactly what would happen with the motions: they would be approved “on consent after holding considerable public comment.” Wesson’s staff had it all figured out three freaking days before the meeting, and any of that “considerable public comment” that happened to oppose Wesson’s plans was wasted. It was all wasted, actually, even supporting comments:
The Ad Hoc Committee on Police Reform intends to meet this coming Wednesday morning at 8:00 a.m. via teleconference. They intend to consider, approve and request reports back on the first round of recently introduced motions. In discussion with Mr. Wesson’s staff, they plan on adopting the motions on consent after holding considerable public comment. The meeting will back right up to the Council meeting which begins at 10 am so they won’t have a lot of time.
On the other hand, maybe Wesson’s staff expressing their opinions about the fate of some motions at an upcoming meeting isn’t actually a violation of the Brown Act. I’m not a lawyer, but I think it is, at least potentially. The committee had five members3 so if Eddo talked to two other offices and mentioned Wesson’s plans it would be an illegal hub-and-spoke meeting.
But it’s also interesting to speculate on why Wesson’s staffers were so sure about what was going to happen, which I’m inclined to attribute to some kind of illegal coordination. I’m sure that many of the Council’s actions are coordinated among high-level staff, probably orally, probably not at scheduled meetings. There are hints like this one occasionally, but I’m not at all sure we’ll ever find proof.
By the way, of course, it’s also plausible that Wesson’s staff were basing their unseemly prediction on L.A. City Council’s famous unanimity, but that broke down significantly in 2020, and was possibly not a sure thing in June. The other committee members were Koretz, Lee, Harris-Dawson, and Cedillo, who were not always on the same side of everything last year. Anyway, that’s the story!
- Sorry to skip the details. The law says that all decisions made by the City Council or its committees must be made in public, or if allowed to be private, the subjects must be made public.
- This would be a good time to mention that I’m digressing somewhat, if so to mention weren’t such a damned cliche!
- The committee seems to have been eliminated for 2021 by Council President Nury Martinez. I’m not clear on whether she has the unilateral power to do this, I think she does not, but I don’t really know. On the other hand I suppose the first thing the new Council will do if they ever come back from vacation is to ratify Martinez’s changes to the committee structure, because they don’t tend to jealously guard the powers granted to them by the Charter.