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Many hands created disgraced Martinez

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez resigned her post as council president, then resigned from the council. The pressure was just too great, the outcry too loud, and the racial inflammatory slurs she uttered simply too appalling to render her anything but disgraced and polarizing.

The same demands for ouster will not go away for councilpersons Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon, who uttered slurs or did and said nothing about them. The harsh truth is there is plenty of blame for Martinez and the other two to spread around.

Start with the city council. It is a big, rich (highest-paid in the country), cozy, secretive, political, textbook good-ole-boy-and-girl chummy club. It is almost like we’ve seen them out there so long, there’s a coziness and familiarity with them, but that coziness and familiarity is in name only.

The concept of participant stakeholder power-sharing and representation is almost an alien concept to more than a few councilpersons. That is patently clear in their pronounced penchant for closed-door secrecy. In the past, they have been raked over the coals for their behind-closed-doors deals on contracts, services and vital spending measures, with little disclosure or need to make any public disclosure. That was on display in their neat, clubhouse-like decision on redistricting. They and they alone made the final decisions on who and what will go where in realigning the 15 districts. Even when there were protests about diminished political power and representation from some African Americans and other groups, the redistrict lines still stood.

This was a major reason Martinez, Cedillo and de Leon felt they could denigrate and disparage Blacks and even Latinos with impunity. They had the power, and they did not have to really answer to anyone on the issue, even with an audio tape going. It is called the arrogance of power. The council bestowed that on them.

L.A. voters are not blameless in this sorry little drama. The turnout in city elections is abysmal. So, it is no surprise that the same faces pop up over and over, year in and year out, on the council after scoring a walk-over reelection. The incumbents have the money, the name, voter apathy — and usually no name recognition or financed challengers — to guarantee their easy win. They bank on voter apathy and know there is minimal transparency and accountability demanded.

They know they will not have to do more than the minimum for appearances’ sake on the big-ticket issues that face the city. These include runaway overdevelopment, the monumental lack of affordable housing, rampant gentrification, out-of-control homelessness, LAPD reform measures, a sensible traffic and transit management plan to end the city’s monstrous traffic gridlock, and radical expansion of public and mental health services.

The need is for a big, bold, sweeping overhaul of the way L.A. city politicians do the taxpayers’ business. This means transparency, accountability, and an end to the backroom, sweetheart deals with developers and special interest groups that terribly mar city government.

The council should conduct independent public audits and make immediate public disclosure of every cent of the multi-billions the council authorizes and spends on projects in L.A., including all services, projects, and materials. There should be a Citizens Accountability Committee to propose and review all decisions on spending, budgeting and planning by the council.

The council should ensure citizen and public interest groups review and craft innovative solutions to attain meaningful oversight of the LAPD, the L.A. Fire Department, and the L.A. Controller’s Office, effective transit and traffic movement overhaul, major expansion of moderate-to-low-income housing, new strategies for combating homelessness, the fight for a living wage, a full green energy agenda, and other major crisis issues.

The outing of Martinez, de Leon and Cedillo offers voters the rare opportunity to ask tough questions of the council about its administration, spending, planning, and most important, its secret backroom dealmaking. The council must be transformed into a beacon for open, clean city government.

It was the absence of this that made a Martinez, Cedillo and de Leon possible. Put bluntly, many hands created the three, and all those hands point back to a dysfunctional, corrupt, arrogant council and legions of L. A. voters who, by their lack of engagement and voting, made them possible.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

Los Angeles city council, Los Angeles redistricting, Nury Martinez