LOS ANGELES — Months before she became the center of political controversy, community advocate Jamie York was fighting for greater transparency in Los Angeles’ government.
After a devastating unanimous vote to sink her appointment to LA’s Ethics Commission, she’s even more adamant the city’s biggest policy decisions are influenced by lobbyists in secret.
“What I’ve come to learn is that everything that was done against me, was done privately and by lobbying,” York told Spectrum News in the vote’s wake.
It’s rare for the Council to block a nominee to a city commission once it makes it to a full vote. York’s appointment had already moved through the committee without opposition or discussion.
With York’s failed appointment, the Ethics Commission does not have a quorum and cannot meet to enforce ethics laws or work on reform.
LA’s leaders have promised major ethics reform after a series of corruption scandals involving council members, four of whom have been indicted in recent years.
In October, leaked, racists comments made by then-Council President Nury Martinez led to her resignation. The head of the LA Federation of Labor Ron Herrera, who also spoke on the tapes, also resigned.
In March, York led a coalition of neighborhood councils to slam the City Council’s draft of new Municipal Lobbying Ordinance, or MLO, because it carved out an exemption for labor unions.
“My view is that, if you’re lobbying, you’re lobbying. Why are we giving special exemptions to certain interests that the average person can’t get?” York said.
At the time, the Ethics Commission acknowledged the exemption would have been unique to LA when compared to lobbying regulations in other major cities.
This week, Council member Hugo Soto-Martinez said he voted against York’s appointment to the Ethics Commission because of her stance on union lobbying.
“I don’t believe that worker-led organizations like unions should be held to the same standard as corporations,” Soto-Martinez told the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council.
But York said several Council members who said they would support her, suddenly changed their votes during the meeting without public discussion.
City Controller Kenneth Mejia appointed York and accused the council of rejecting her “in a backroom deal spearheaded by special interests.”
“What I experienced is not a public process,” York said.
City Council President Paul Krekorian declined to be interviewed but said in a statement he had personal concerns about York and denies speaking to other members ahead of the vote.
“Unquestionably, this nominee has proven to be a forceful advocate for the positions she takes. I have agreed with many of those positions and disagreed with others. But the Controller certainly should have known that the job of an Ethics Commissioner is fundamentally different from that of an advocate.”
He’s due to make his own appointment to the Ethics Commission, saying, “My nominee will be a thoughtful person of unquestioned independence who will be resolutely committed to enforcement of our city’s ethics laws.”
Council Pro-Temp Marqueece Harris-Dawson also said he will make an appointment soon.
All the delays lead to skepticism the Council can deliver the reforms it promised.
“The City Council has a great opportunity to make some very meaningful reforms to address the corruption scandals that have happened here over the last four years, but actions speak louder than words,” said Sean Morris, with California Common Cause, a nonprofit that promotes ethics and transparency in government.
Council member Eunisses Hernandez said she wishes she could re-do her vote and support York, but said no one from the Controller’s office reached out to stress the importance of supporting Mejia’s nominee.
York believes lobbyists who want to keep their business with the city secret are behind the vote against her.
It’s an allegation that’s difficult to prove.
“There’s no lobbyist for everyday people,” York said. “You have a lobbyist if you have money.”
She worries without a working Ethics Commission. The city is not just back at square one — reform isn’t even on the table.