First in a series of articles examining the issues under review by the city of L.A.'s appointed Charter Reform Commission.
Should the Los Angeles City Charter a document that serves the city much the same way the U.S. Constitution serves the nation be rewritten as a broad, general document or a detailed, specific one?
That was the first issue tackled by the city of Los Angeles Commission on Charter Reform in its "Road to Decision" road map a list of 10 issues addressing such questions as how much power the mayor should have, whether the city's election system should be changed and whether neighborhood councils should be formed.
At a meeting Sept. 10, the commission decided unanimously that the document should be written in broad strokes providing guiding principles of government, not the minute details of bureaucracy.
Though the commission did not provide any specifics, proponents of the change said pension provisions for city workers and departmental structures could be included in the municipal code and do not need to clutter the city charter.
"We would like to place a greater emphasis on clarity, simplicity and brevity than is currently in the charter," said George Kieffer, chair of the commission. "So we would like to make it less of an operating manual and more of a traditional charter."
Included among the commission's resolutions were that the charter should:
- Have a preamble presenting a clear mission statement for the city, much like the U.S. Constitution has.
- Be more flexible by allowing the mayor and the City Council more authority to shape the city government's structure and operations.
- Not include those portions of the current charter that could be included in municipal and administrative codes, therefore ending the requirement that changes to them be voted upon by L.A. citizens.
- Have an underlying emphasis on flexibility for change and clear accountability by city officials.
The existing charter, written during a reformist period in 1925, covers 700 pages. Its detail was motivated in large part by a desire to prevent corruption.
But Mike Keeley, a former deputy mayor to Mayor Richard Riordan who testified before the commission, said that a broader charter would not open the doors for corruption pointing out that the U.S. Constitution is broadly written.
Former City Councilman Marvin Braude, who also spoke before the commission, said the current charter is far too constrictive in its morass of details.
"Most cities give their elected officials more power to act," Braude said in his remarks to the commission. "But Los Angeles does not. It strangles the ability to act."
The 21-member commission was appointed by the L.A. City Council, which can make changes to the rewritten charter the commission develops before putting it to a citywide vote.
A separate 15-member elected commission, approved by voters in April, is also charged with rewriting the charter. That commission recently broke into five study groups and is expected to have its own guidelines prepared by early next year.
Kieffer, chair of the appointed commission, said that its recommendations on the scope of the rewritten charter as with all of the recommendations it develops over the next couple of months are subject to revision.
"This is our first pass," Kieffer said. "And we're saying to the public, 'Tell us, stake-holders and the public, whether we're on the right track or we're missing something.' "
Next week: Should the power of the mayor be increased?
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