LA Times holds seminar on keeping city officials accountable

On Wed. Jan. 20, the School of Public Policy held a seminar at the Center for Sustainable Suburban Development discussing accountability amongst city government officials. The event was led by LA Times writers Mariel Garza and Robert Greene, who discussed how the editorial board came up with the concept of issuing “report cards” on the performances of city officials and the impact that the editorial has had on local politics.

Garza and Greene discussed how the editorial board for the LA Times was conflicted over the fact that while they often did not support the incumbents in elections, they felt there were no other viable candidates to endorse. Greene recalls thinking, “This is our own fault, where were we a couple years ago in the middle of this person’s term? We should have been sounding the alarm and saying ‘please someone else run against them.’” To combat this issue, they came up with a “report card” that graded officials based on their vision, transparency, leadership and effectiveness.

The end result was effective in facilitating a discussion on the performance of elected officials and also in giving officials a guide on the improvement they wish to see in the last two years of their term. They hope that the commentary will provide a platform for future candidates and encourage accountability and improvement in the coming years, explaining, “We said to them ‘if you want our endorsement next time, here are the things we are going to expect from you.’”

In addition, they felt that it kept them more accountable for what they wrote and made them view campaign promises from a more logical perspective. Garza says that they had to be reasonable in their expectations, stating, “Whether it is putting 1,000 more cops on the street or filling every pothole, you realize the realities of doing these things are much more daunting than you thought on the outside. In the end there is only so much you can blame this person for.”

Many locals representing community groups were curious about whether the same criteria the Times used could be applied to all local officials. Garza and Greene said that while community groups can use the same criteria, “you must also decide ahead of time what it is you want out of your elected official,” which oftentime varied depending on where the person lived.

They added that while they would like to potentially create a matrix or grading standard, they “do not think there is a one size fits all,” especially when considering the fact that each official’s position differs in responsibilities. As a reminder, they told everyone that while the editorial was thorough and fact-based, they “do not pretend to not have opinions and we strive to be as transparent as possible.”

When asked what their future plans were they said they planned on “grading” more officials and refining their grading criteria to provide a better opinion for readers. “The criteria we use is a work in progress,” replied Greene.

Morris Mendoza, a member of the Casablanca Community action group, said that while he was hoping to have more of a discussion on accountability within the Riverside community he was “happy to be educated by them and I hope we can do something like this over here.”

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