Near the end of every City Council meeting, the clerk announces that there are “excuses on the desk,” meaning various members intend to be absent from future sessions.
Usually, the stated reason is “city business,” which “meets Council policy,” and the presiding officer says, “That’s approved.”
But sometimes like at the end of last Friday’s meeting where Tony Cardenas asked to be excused from the meetings of Sept. 6, 7, 13, 14, 16, 27, 28 and 30 “due to personal business. That meets Council policy.”
“That’s approved,” declared President Pro Tem Dennis Zine, who made a joke about the Valley Councilman planning to skip almost every meeting in September right after the Council has been on vacation for 17 days.
The nation’s highest paid municipal elected officials — $180,000 a year, plus lifetime pensions and health benefits, plus staffs of 20, plus cars, perks, officeholder accounts and freebies from influence peddlers and favor seekers — are almost never on duty all at the same time.
The Council meets three times a week when it’s not on vacation — which it is at least six to eight weeks a year — and it’s almost unheard of for all 15 members to be present.
In fact, only once in the past 10 weeks has there been as many as 14 members present. That was on June 1.
Records show they usually try to have 12 members present because they need that number to adopt ordinances on a single reading with a unanimous vote — something that the deliberative body that makes policy for a diverse and complex city of four million people achieves an astonishing 99.3 percent of the time. However, one-fifth of the meetings brought only 10 members to work.
In June and July, the Council’s AWOL King was Jose Huizar who missed 13 of 25 meetings with Herb Wesson a close second having missed 11, followed by Eric Garcetti and Ed Reyes with 7 each, Zine with 6 and Janice Hahn with 5 before being promoted to the Congress of the United States in July.
Mitch Englander was the only member present for all meetings but he only took office on July 1, succeeding Greig Smith who wrapped up a 30-year city career by missing six meetings in June.
Interestingly, six Council members missed four meetings each, suggesting that it is well understood everyone is entitled to skip out on people’s business twice a month without anyone looking askance. Paul Koretz missed only two meetings and Bill Rosendahl 3.
Attendance is as carefully orchestrated as what passes for debate at Council meetings where the comments and questions to staff are almost always intended to obscure rather than to enlighten.
Since the elections of Council members are themselves forgone conclusions thanks to the overwhelming influence of big money from business, labor and various special interests, it might be worth considering elimination of the Council entirely — a reform that would free up tens of millions of dollars that could fully restore library hours with trained librarians as well as parks programs and staff.
If they are going to make a mockery of democracy, maybe we all should join in on the joke and have a good laugh about it just like Dennis Zine.