Set aside for the moment, if you can, the incompetence, venality and indifference of most of our elected officials and focus on the citizen oversight that the commissions are supposed to provide to protect the public interest.
Commissioners are in charge of every department and their job — in theory — is to insulate the bureaucrats from improper political influence and set policy for them.
In reality, they have become part of the problem, nothing but political appointees of the mayor, serving at his pleasure, doing his bid and taking their marching orders from the mayor and his staff who work board meetings making sure they obey orders.
There is no independent civilian oversight as evidenced by the fact that only two notable commissioners have resigned in protest in recent years.
Jane Usher, who has turned around the civil law unit in the City Attorney’s office in the last year, quit as president of the Planning Commission over the failed billboard policies of the mayor and City Council. Nick Patsaouras quit as president of the DWP Board in a policy fight with the mayor and now is leading the charge for creation of a Rate Payer Advocate to protect the public interest.
The DWP rate hike fiasco has prompted some Council members to call for a change in how the commissioners are appointed — a move that would require a Charter change and opens up a fuller discussion of how all commissioners are appointed.
Today, most appointments are made by the mayor subject to Council approval.
Many people are named to commissions because they are heavy contributors who help keep the leaking City Hall machine running. Many others are made for purely political purposes to bring one segment of the community or another aboard the same machine’s self-serving agenda. And some are nothing but nepotism like Richard Alarcon’s daughter serving at a six-figure salary on the Board of Public Works.
Rarely is anyone appointed because of their independence, commitment to the public interest and their expertise in their area of responsibility.
The result is a political system that is lopsided, tilted overwhelmingly in favor of the elected officials and beholden to the mayor and Council — not the voters and taxpayers.
The city is in deep trouble financially. The gross mismanagement of city affairs is being exposed on a daily basis. City Hall has lost its credibility.
Change is now possible for the first time in decades.
One of the highest priorities for those working to reform City Hall should be to change how commissioners are appointed to all the oversight boards, most of which have five members.
The mayor simply has too much power.
A simple solution that would find popular support would be to allow the mayor only one appointment and give the Controller, City Attorney and the Council one each.
The fifth commissioner should be chosen by the Neighborhood Councils.
This would at least create some semblance of balance and actually empower the Neighborhood Councils in a way that City Hall has fought since their inception.
We don’t need commissions that are simply going to roll over to the orders of the mayor and Council. We need people who will stand up for what’s right, not sign off on what’s wrong.
The Council has opened up this discussion. Let’s see if they mean by putting on the ballot a sweeping reform that will bring every segment of the community to a seat and the table of power where the competing interests can fight about policies and programs from a position of equality.
Is that too much to ask for in a democracy?