Columnists Earl Ofari Hutchinson Opinion

THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: What next council member needs to do

Voters, stakeholders, constituents, and just concerned folk in the 10th Los Angeles City Council District will have something that they haven’t had in seemingly decades.

That is a competitive race for the council seat. They will have the chance to get someone in the seat committed to real reform, direct constituent inclusion in decision making and who is not a hand tool of developers, labor and corporate fat cats.

Whoever they pick should not be able to glide into the seat based on their name and longevity in a past elected post. The days of entitlement and coronation of a name candidate must and should be long past.

In the past it’s been a walk over and a foregone conclusion that the incumbent would win and win handily. Often in these races, the incumbent runs unopposed. That’s not fair. That’s not democratic.

That provides no chance for voters to demand transparency and accountability from their council member. This has been the prescription for district constituents, at best, being taken for granted; at worst neglected. There’s simply too much at stake for residents to be blasé, complacent and indifferent to a crucial election, especially when they have a real chance to make a difference.

L.A. City Council members rank among the most powerful local officials in the nation. One city council district has the size and population that nearly matches that of a couple of smaller U.S. states. City council members routinely make decisions, often behind closed doors, that affect the lives of millions of people.

They have been raked over the coals deservedly for their behind closed doors deals on contracts, services and vital spending measures, with little disclosure or seemingly need to make any public disclosure. The City Council sessions are filled with perfunctory ceremonial, often self-congratulatory, banter and commendations. Again, the hard stuff is done behind closed doors.

That is a big reason why legions of residents of the 10th District and other council districts scratch their heads in puzzlement whenever they are asked just what exactly do the council members do? The 10th District race should change that.

In the runoff for the seat, with no incumbent, the two contenders will scratch and claw for every vote. The price for those votes should be the demand that they give hard answers to the hard questions that 10th District residents, stakeholders and public interest groups must and should ask them.

No platitudes, no canned lines, no stock phrases, or pithy sound bites, but specifics, specifics, specifics on what the 10th District contenders will do on the big-ticket issues that face the 10th district.

They include: run-away overdevelopment, the monumental lack of affordable housing, rampant gentrification, surging homelessness, LAPD reform, a sensible traffic and transit management plan to end the district’s monstrous traffic gridlock and job expansion and small business development programs and support.

The need is for a big, bold, sweeping overhaul of the way L.A. city politicians do taxpayer business. They should pledge to fight for that. That means transparency, accountability and an end to backroom, sweetheart deals with developers and special interest groups that have terribly marred city government.

The two 10th District candidates should pledge to an open public window on all City Council meetings, deliberations and decision making, especially the awarding of all contracts — instant Facebook and social media streaming for L.A. residents and stakeholders viewing, discussion and input of council meetings. Then a prompt posting of this information on the 10th District website and Facebook page and a weekly constituent newsletter update of council actions.

They should pledge to conduct independent public audits and immediate public disclosure of every cent of the multibillions the City Council members authorize and spend on projects in the city. This includes taxpayer dollars spent by the City Council on all services, projects and materials

They should pledge to form a 10th District Citizens Accountability Committee to propose and review all decisions on spending, budgeting and planning by the 10th District council member.

A major problem with City Council races as with other city and county races is that often a candidate is a termed out elected official who views and treats a City Council seat or supervisor’s seat as another political stop. They recycle themselves from one office to another.

Again, this is entitlement with a vengeance. They grab the cash, have the name recognition, and the clubby endorsements of the entire political establishment. A challenger with none of this political largesse is placed in an almost impossible task of trying to buck the good old boy and girl entrenched wash each other’s hand monolith.

The 10th City Council district race offers voters the rare opportunity to send a strong message that they want and demand their next city council member to fully back open, clean, transparent city government. And they will hold them accountable for that. Anything less just ensures the same old tired business as usual for the district. The loser then will be the 10th District.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “What’s Right and Wrong with the Electoral College (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK 90.7 FM and the Pacifica Network.