Signaling its intention to play a greater role in the debate over City Charter reform, a coalition of leading business groups weighed in last week with a series of recommendations on the issue.
The coalition which includes the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Central City Association, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association and the Latin Business Association called for reducing the City Council's power and concentrating more administrative and management responsibilities in the mayor's office.
It also called for giving city department general managers more flexibility in selecting their most senior managers and establishing a multi-year budget cycle that should be used to improve long-term planning for city services.
"I can say that the form of government in Los Angeles is the most complicated form of government in the country, bar none," said chamber President Ezunial Burts at a coalition conference last week. "It's an obvious issue."
Meanwhile, a group of corporate chieftains, the Los Angeles Business Advisors, has commissioned its own study on charter reform. That study, prepared by Rand Corp. for about $100,000, is expected to be released in October.
"It's going to be more of a guiding principle this time, I think," said Sam Bell, president of the Business Advisors, which formed two years ago. "Our group is going to be looking at narrowing that once we get the final report and we find areas that perhaps need more priority."
Together, the actions reflect a growing commitment by business to be involved in charter reform and city politics in general, said Frank Moran, president of the Latin Business Association, one of eight groups in the coalition.
"There has never been an established, cohesive group in my recent memory," he said. "I really believe this is the beginning of a strengthening core of influence."
Two separate charter reform commissions a 21-member commission appointed by the L.A. City Council and a 15-member commission elected by voters are currently developing versions of a rewritten charter, which serves as the city's constitution.
The appointed commission, whose version of the charter can be amended by the City Council before being sent to voters for approval, already has held several public hearings on how the charter should be rewritten.
The elected commission which has had no money since being formed July 1, but which last week was granted $350,000 in city funds has broken into five committees and expects to have its guidelines ready early next year. Its version of the charter will go directly to the voters for approval.
George Kieffer, chairman of the appointed commission, said he was pleased with the guidelines offered by the coalition of eight business groups led by the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.
"I think they are thoughtful and will be given a lot of consideration," he said. "They're not inconsistent with some of the things that we already indicated would be our principles."
SunAmerica Inc. Chairman Eli Broad, a member of the Los Angeles Business Advisors and a $25,000 contributor to the elected commission campaign, said that while the chamber's recommendations are on the right track, he wishes they would have been more detailed.
"Whenever you have a very big group, you get down to what I call the lowest common denominator that will satisfy everyone involved," Broad said. "LABA is a smaller group, and therefore may have stronger and more precise recommendations on some of the issues."
But chamber president Burts said the reason the principles were kept general is because the charter reform process is still in its early stages.
"We're saying, 'Here's a guiding set of general principles today,' " Burts said. "I think, as more issues come out over time, we'll see modifications to that, and more specifics."
Those who donated money to the effort to form an elected commission said they're also taking a "wait and see" approach to charter reform.
One contributor Galpin Motors Inc. President Herbert Boeckmann II, who donated $25,000 to the campaign said he is tracking the progress of the charter reform commissions, but has not yet offered any recommendations of his own.
"I don't have any agenda myself," Boeckmann said. "If I had a recommendation to make or a concern to address, I would feel free to do that, and hope anyone else would as well."
Bell of the L.A. Business Advisors said that the time the chamber-led coalition has spent on drafting its charter-reform principles as well as the money his own group is spending on its Rand study demonstrates that the city's business community is rallying behind charter reform.
"I think there's a very healthy involvement of business in the whole project, which I think is very good," he said. "I think it's time for a change, and I think business is concerned about making some changes that will enhance the ability of our elected officials to govern."
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