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Could L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia have done more to save his nominee?

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s David Zahniser, with a little help from Dakota Smith, taking stock of the drama at City Hall from the past week.

If anyone on the Los Angeles City Council should have been a reliable ally for City Controller Kenneth Mejia last week, it was Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez.

Hernandez and Mejia occupy the leftmost end of the political spectrum at City Hall, sharing similar views on homelessness, police spending and other topics. Both took office in December, weeks after vanquishing seasoned elected officials.

But when Mejia was looking to put Jamie York, president of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, on the city’s Ethics Commission, he didn’t call up Hernandez for help with that crucial appointment in the days before the vote.

Hernandez is now expressing regret over her vote to reject Mejia’s appointee, saying she had her hands full with another major issue during the Aug. 18 council meeting. At the same time, she told The Times it would be good if Mejia provided more introductions the next time he submits an Ethics Commission nominee.

“We didn’t have anybody reach out to us” on York’s appointment, she said. “I think it’s important to over-communicate in these spaces, especially if it’s a priority of yours. If [something is] a priority of mine, I’ve got to make sure I’ll talk to everybody I think will have an impact on my decision.”

The uproar over the council’s unanimous rejection of York has triggered an array of questions. Among them: Did council members fall short by failing to go to Mejia with their concerns? Or should Mejia have done more to reach out to them, shoring up support for his nominee?

In the days since York’s nomination was shot down, members of the City Council have defended their vote, citing her past work as a campaign fundraiser and her advocacy on changes to the city’s lobbying ordinance — particularly as it relates to labor unions. Some have also complained that Mejia’s team showed little interest in corralling votes.

“Inexplicably, the controller did not, to my knowledge, consult with councilmembers before choosing his nominee, or speak with councilmembers to advocate for her,” Council President Paul Krekorian said in a statement. “The nomination was unanimously disapproved by members who have a wide range of viewpoints, and the controller simply made no effort to address any member’s questions or concerns.”

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who is part of the council’s leadership team, offered a similar take, saying through an aide that Mejia’s team did not contact his office to discuss his ethics pick.

“Most people that I vote for, I can do so with confidence, because I know them. I know their record, I know what they’re about,” Harris-Dawson said this week. “That wasn’t the case with this.”

Mejia declined a request from The Times to discuss York’s nomination on Friday. Instead, a spokesperson for Mejia said in a pair of emails that the office followed the proper protocol by sending a letter about York’s nomination to the city clerk, which was uploaded to the public council file.

Diana Chang, a Mejia spokesperson, said in her email that York deserved a full hearing, in order to ensure that the conversation around her appointment was “public, not private.” Instead, the nomination was “blocked by a corrupt, last minute, backroom deal,” Chang said.

“Council members are attempting to excuse typical back-room dealing behavior by accusing our office of failing to follow procedure. But we didn’t do anything wrong. The City Council did. A majority of council members clearly ceded their role to special interests focused on limiting transparency and accountability in our local government,” she said.

Chang said that her office offered Krekorian a chance to speak with York in a June 30 email. That email, written by a Mejia staffer, was addressed to City Clerk Holly Wolcott, with a copy also sent to Krekorian’s general office inbox.

York, for her part, said Mejia’s office was supportive and responsive, staying in contact throughout the appointment process. She said she informed Mejia’s team that she had spoken with Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, her district representative, about her appointment while he was working a booth at a Fourth of July fireworks event in Woodland Hills.

“I asked Bob if I could count on his vote and he said yes,” she said.

York said she also informed Mejia she had support from Councilmember Tim McOsker, after receiving that news from Doug Epperhart, president of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council. Epperhart, in an interview, said McOsker had made a commitment to vote for York during a conversation at a public safety fair.

Epperhart, a York supporter, said he views the council’s vote as “petty and vindictive.” At the same time, he believes Mejia’s team made a rookie mistake in failing to shepherd York through the council’s approval process.

“She made the mistake of trusting that Mejia was doing what he needed to do,” Epperhart said.

Meat-and-potatoes networking — picking up the phone, for example — is not unusual for veteran politicians at City Hall. When Mayor Karen Bass has a commission appointment, she typically alerts the council president and each member of the relevant council committee, offering them the opportunity to meet with the nominee, according to Zach Seidl, a mayoral spokesperson. Leo Daube, a spokesperson for Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky, said his boss met with two of Bass’ appointees to the Department of Water and Power board before they came up for a vote.

Former Ethics Commissioner Shedrick Davis, an appointee of former City Controller Ron Galperin, said he didn’t experience that kind of process when he went before the council in 2018. “I pretty much remember congratulations and a vote being taken,” he said.

Council members did receive extensive feedback on York from neighborhood councils, which enthusiastically endorsed her and her work on ethics reform, particularly her effort to strengthen lobbying laws. Some also heard from Charley Mims, who is listed as an executive board member with Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents about 7,000 city employees and recently staged a well-publicized one-day strike.

Mims emailed at least some council members a statement issued by the Reseda Neighborhood Council, which was read out loud by York earlier this year, arguing against the weakening of lobbying rules for union officials who seek to influence city decisions.

Mims did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Blumenfield said he offered York supportive comments at his fireworks event but did not make an “ironclad commitment” to vote for her.

Supporters of York view the focus on Mejia as misdirection, saying blame should be placed squarely with the council — and a system that allows council members to decide who should sit on the Ethics Commission, a five-member panel that issues fines to elected officials who violate certain laws.

York’s allies have taken special aim at Krekorian, who heads the rules committee, which serves as the clearinghouse for Ethics Commission nominees. Krekorian waived York’s nomination out of his committee, choosing not to have a separate hearing on her appointment before it reached the council floor.

Asked about that decision, Krekorian spokesperson Hugh Esten said there was “not enough time” to consider the nomination in committee before the full council vote.

The rules committee could have scheduled a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 18, ninety minutes before the full council took up York’s appointment. That was the type of schedule used this week for raises at the LAPD.

Rob Quan, an organizer with Unrig LA, which backed York’s nomination, said Krekorian had a responsibility to hold a public hearing on York, which would have allowed her to respond publicly to her critics. “At the end of the day, if there are problems, vet them in your committee,” he told Krekorian during Friday’s council meeting.

Hernandez said she would vote for York if she receives another chance. But with the deadline past for such a vote, it will be up to Mejia to decide whether to renominate York or find a new appointee.

State of play

— STORMY WEATHER: The city emerged largely unscathed from the tropical storm that hit Southern California over the last weekend, with Mayor Karen Bass announcing no deaths and no significant injuries. Bass thanked the public for largely remaining indoors during the downpour. “One of the things that we asked them to do was to stay home, and people did stay home,” she said.

— PAY PROPOSAL PASSES: The City Council voted 12 to 3 to approve a package of raises and bonuses at the LAPD, which is expected to add $400 million to the annual police budget in 2027. The three “no” votes came from the council’s left flank — Eunisses Hernandez, Hugo Soto-Martínez and Nithya Raman — who said the contract’s high cost would make it more difficult to pay for other needed services.

— RAMAN REASSURES: Of the three dissenters, Raman was the only one to emphasize the need for the LAPD, saying her office works with the department on a daily basis. “I want to be very clear. I am not coming to this at all from a place of wanting to eliminate our police response,” she said. “We need the capacity to defend our residents against violence and crime and to investigate it effectively.”

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: A day after the LAPD contract vote, the department issued a statement on an internal affairs investigation into a gang unit in the Valley’s Mission Division station — one that is looking at whether officers had their body cameras off at moments when they should have been on. Bass, in her own statement, suggested the coming details will be bad. “I have been briefed on this incident and what I’ve been told is very disturbing,” she said.

— HARVARD-WESTLAKE HEARING: The Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit on Thursday for Harvard-Westlake, a private school that plans to transform the Weddington Golf & Tennis Club in Studio City into a student athletic center and park. Opponents of the plan, who voiced concern about traffic and noise caused by sporting events, are expected to file an appeal.

— SURVEY SAYS: A group seeking to increase the size of the City Council is touting the results of a new poll that found that 62% of respondents would support expanding the number of council districts to 23, up from 15. That number grows to 64% once respondents have more information on the idea, according to Fair Rep LA, a coalition of advocacy groups that includes California Common Cause, Ground Game L.A. and Mar Vista Voice.

The idea of growing the council to 29 members had a slightly weaker showing, garnering support from 55% of respondents initially, and 59% once they received more information. Those results were encouraging to Quan, whose group, Unrig LA, is part of Fair Rep LA. “Voters might not be as big of a problem as our elected officials, who are going to be deciding what they actually send to voters,” he said.

Quan said the council’s reform committee could vote on the elements of a ballot measure as soon as mid-September.

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Quick hits

  • Where did Inside Safe go? The mayor’s initiative to combat homelessness did not venture into new areas this week. However, the city did find interim housing for 72 unhoused people who had been moved into wet-weather shelters during last weekend’s storm, according to the mayor’s team.
  • On the docket for next week: After a one-week storm-related delay, former City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas is scheduled for sentencing in his federal corruption case. In a different courthouse, Councilmember Curren Price will be entering a plea in his perjury, embezzlement and conflict-of-interest case.

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