The Ninja Bender and ALUC

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

When community members get elected to a position in local government, they are thrust into a Ninja blender of conflicting interests.

It does not matter if the decision pertains to allocating $250,000 in taxpayer funds for “fancy trash cans”, asking for an outside audit of financial records where significant mistakes are obvious, or deciding whether to overturn a decision of two State agencies that found three housing projects next to the Joint Forces Military Base may be unsafe for the housing.

Each decision made requires a “scale of justice” to weigh and balance multiple factors.
The decision usually calls for a Yes or No vote. Management loses control when council members attempt to alter the staff’s recommendation during a council meeting.
After the vote, it is inevitable that one side is not going to be satisfied, and will question the judgment, or ethics, or both of the decision maker.

There are circulating accusations that the failed vote to overturn the Airport Land Use Commission’s decision occurred because two members of the Los Alamitos City Council are “puppets”.

The council acts as a “body” and their duties are to everyone, not just those living in the city, but everyone who may be impacted by the decision. That is why hearings are open to the “public” not just voters within the city.

As an elected official, you have “staff” that consists of civil service employees, management, and legal counsel. Your staff does not make decisions, they make recommendations only. They are not experts; that is why the City pays for consultant opinions.

The consultant must also be free of conflict of interest and bias in order for officials to be able to rely on their advice. A consultant who has been paid by both the proponent and opponent at different times would have a conflict of interest. A report that fails to disclose that writer has been paid by the proponent in the past but asserts in a report that he is “independent”, lacks credibility and tilts the scale of justice.

A decision-maker is free to follow the Staff recommendations, but she is also free to ignore them. She must weigh and balance the advice given based on whether the staff report is complete, accurate, unbiased, and avoids conflicts of interest.

Some council members never deviate from what the staff recommends. Even in a situation where many errors are found in financial reports and budgets, they will vote to approve the document because that is what the “staff recommends’. These types of decisions make the public questions “what are they hiding”?

The community may notice that the “follow the leader” official, may never express an opinion or ask a question during the meeting. Their job is performative: hand out certificates, get photo taken, cheer on the staff, meet and greet, and never question what is presented to you.

On the other hand, some council members are activists.

When the public demands answers to questions, they do their own research, consult with outside legal advisors when they do not get sufficient council in-house, gather public documents that are missing from the staff reports, question the credentials of experts, and look for conflicts of interest both inside and outside of City Hall. This assures them that the decision they make is based on the broadest factual basis available free of undue influence and not tainted by corruption.

Activist council members will engage in questions and answers during the public meetings, and openly discuss their concerns.

My question for the reader is this: Is the “puppet” the person who actively engages in the pursuit of knowledge and truth, or the decision maker who simply allows the staff to tell them what to do?
Carol Churchill

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