You were criticized for spending money from your discretionary fund on things like holiday lights around the zoo instead of, say, on potholes.
That was a bunch of horse---- because the zoo lights bring joy. The DWP years ago created the holiday lightfest in Griffith Park. That $100,000 brought nearly 200,000 people to the zoo at night.
Is it the city's job to bring joy to people?The platitudes in the last sentence are pure LaBonge in that it speaks in feel-good concept, and not specific numbers. Even in the waning days of his reign, when questions persisted about where his district's funds went and someone else would soon access the accounts, LaBonge was pivoting from transparency to pageantry.
Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, three times plus. Where there's joy, there's love, and if there's love, there's life.
Now David Ryu is taking charge, and seeking to implement actual discretion in the use of the discretionary funds that LaBonge repurposed from public works to "the arts" and "cultural exchange" until the very end of his term. Ryu's motion to set up a mechanism for reviewing use of funds, with constituent input, goes to city council tomorrow (emphasis added):
Council offices receive discretionary funding in several ways. Unfortunately, in some cases the expenditure of these revenues have not had much transparency, and from here on need to be reviewed and validated, in order to give our projects traction. While this may be a problem throughout the City, several local news outlets have highlighted some especially extreme misuse of funds within Council District 4. Going forward, the best way to prevent even the appearance of abuse is to apply a healthy dose of community input and public accountability. We need to starting thinking “outside the box” for answers that will give us an advantage.
The goal of an advisory task force would be to make this process as transparent as possible. A specific plan should be established to show how much the District is receiving and how much of it can be spent. The input of the community is crucial in navigating these expenditures for the District, and the decisions made should be up to those who live in the District.
The day before the Pat Morrison interview published, LaBonge got his council colleagues to issue a new contract out of AB 1290 funds - discretionary money for district improvements - so that a plaque and monument could commemorate the role of a Native American tribe in Fern Dell in Griffith Park, near the site of a bridge repair that the first contract paid for. My request for the contract, not retrievable in the city's online system where contracts are usually housed, is pending in the city clerk's office.
The purpose of AB1290 funds is pure public benefit, like blight reduction, public works, and economic development. But city councilmembers can use the money as they see fit, and argue for necessity outside of expected uses like sidewalk repairs and graffiti removal. Councilmember Martinez, for example, recently cleared funding for a police "party car" to patrol her San Fernando Valley district for parties and gatherings in public spaces that become disruptive. She obtained permission from her council colleagues to apply $20,000 to staff an LAPD patrol in problem areas.
On June 26, with just five days left in office, LaBonge filed a motion to give $60,000 of the district's money away to another council district, out of both AB1290 funds and another discretionary fund, to different initiatives and non-profits, organizations whose donors need not be disclosed. However some organizations, like the Los Angeles Beautification Team, list their donors, and they show plenty of big business influence, including the property developers, and tourist-magnet film studios that create the kind of congestion LaBonge's constituents eventually grew tired of, punishing his administration with rejection in the voting booth. LaBonge's chief of staff, Carolyn Ramsay, was considered a front runner to replace him in the May election.
As the election approached, Los Feliz Ledger and Los Angeles Times reporting on LaBonge's shell game with taxpayer dollars funneled to
Tomorrow, along with getting his new council colleagues to take a first step at tighter controls on discretionary spending, Ryu will also ask them to kill LaBonge's last minute $60,000 giveaway to a central Los Angeles district, in addition to separate six-figure packages.
The transfers had not yet gone before council when LaBonge's term ended on June 30. The following day, Ryu used his first day in office to rescind the motions and suggest new spending procedures instead.
The other transfers included:
- A package of $115,000 in transfers for various public works and improvements in Hancock Park and in Griffith Park, which included a request that the city controller be "authorized to waive any procedural and administrative requirements in this matter to effectuate the transfer as expeditiously as possible."
- A package of $191,830 in transfers for similar public works and improvements, plus $40,000 in nondescript community services, with the same language urging instant transfer without review
- A package of $242,500 in transfers to various organizations, including to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Ford Theatre, two organizations with ties to Kamilla Blanche-Stern, a LaBonge staffer and director of a non-profit housed at city hall which refused to turn over documents or disclose any outputs or outcomes. Blanche-Stern is paid by taxpayer dollars, to manage funds that flow into a city council office anonymously, and has at least once been retained to perform work on contract that she was already being paid for on salary. Persistent questioning about what the non-profit actually does, and multiple requests for documents and financial data, produced no answers.