Editorial: LA Freezes Council Members’ Salaries Too Quickly

Here’s an unpopular opinion: elected officials in Los Angeles accused of corruption or sidelined by a pending court decision should be paid pending a ruling.

Three members of the city council have been relieved of their official duties in the past two years, including temporary deputy councilor Herb Wesson, prompting city administrator Ron Galperin to cut their salary. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge last week blocked Wesson from serving on the council pending a decision on whether or not to return to the council after he was fired; he was appointed to replace suspended councilor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

It is perfectly appropriate to suspend indicted elected leaders accused of abusing the power of their office. They are not allowed to conduct the affairs of the public while facing such serious charges. (This council has called on elected officials accused of corruption to resign voluntarily for the good of their constituents, but most officials have ignored that plea.)

The City Council rightly suspended Ridley-Thomas after he was charged last year with conspiring with the former dean of the USC’s School of Social Work to send provincial contracts to the school in exchange for allowing his son to enter the graduate program with a full tuition fee. scholarship and paid professorship. And it was the right decision to suspend Councilman Jose Huizar in 2020 when he was charged with allegedly using his position to bring in $1.5 million in bribes and other benefits from real estate developers looking to build in LA.

But Galperin’s move to stop paying salaries after the councilors’ suspension should give a pause. Why should elected officials accused of crimes but not convicted should lose their pay? It tramples on due process and presumption of innocence before sentencing.

Suspension is intended to reduce the risk posed by elected officials accused of corruption; stopping their pay is punishment.

There is certainly an appeal for the cutting of paychecks to elected officials accused of misconduct. In 2014, after two state senators were charged with bribery and public corruption and another senator was convicted of lying to voters about life in his district, there was widespread outrage that lawmakers were suspended with pay. Two years later, lawmakers put Proposition 50 on the ballot, asking voters to explicitly authorize the legislature to suspend members without paying by a two-thirds vote. The Times editors opposed Proposition 50 because “it would violate the right to a fair trial afforded to every citizen of this country, including politicians who behave badly.”

Proposal 50 passed with 76% support.

Galperin’s office defends his actions, saying that if an elected official is no longer able to perform their duties as outlined in the city charter, they cannot receive a public salary. Neither Ridley-Thomas nor Huizar have challenged the wage freeze. The last time an elected official was charged with a felony was in 2010, when Councilor Richard Alarcon was charged with perjury and voter fraud for allegedly living outside his district. His colleagues from the municipality have not suspended him. And that’s another concern: There’s no clarity on what crimes or actions should result in elected officials being suspended from their duties and payment being halted. The lack of consistency and clear guidelines leave punishment to political whims.

Wesson’s case is different from Ridley-Thomas and Huizar’s as the judge sidelined him while the court decides whether he can legally serve. Was it premature or fair to suspend his pay pending a court decision? (Of course, this dilemma could have been avoided if Council President Nury Martinez and the City Council had chosen a temporary replacement who was not named.)

It may be legal to stop paying elected officials while they are suspended, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair or respects due process. Given the number of elected officials who have been indicted in recent years and questions about how and when vacancies should be filled, it is worth amending the City Statute to clarify what the City Council and City Administrator can and cannot do, and what they should and should not do. do not.

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