The Los Angeles City Council delayed action Wednesday on a controversial plan to strip the city attorney’s office of its job writing laws and assign the task to lawyers hired by the Council’s legislative analyst.
City Councilman Paul Krekorian, the plan’s main backer, said budget cuts have made the city attorney’s office too slow in drafting ordinances. Krekorian last week introduced a motion to put the measure before voters on the March ballot. The change would alter the city’s charter and therefore requires voter approval.
In the face of criticism today by some of his council colleagues, Krekorian agreed to push back the proposed ballot measure to the city’s May 21 general election ballot and to work to find an alternative solution to the problem.
The council agreed to have City Council President Herb Wesson form an ad hoc committee to negotiate with the city attorney’s office on how to speed up the work of drafting laws and return to the Council in two weeks with an update.
In making his case for the plan, Krekorian said the city attorney’s main job is to prosecute criminals and defend the city in lawsuits, and the Council’s main job is to write laws. Having its own lawyers draft laws would enable the Council to do its job more swiftly and be more accountable for the work members are elected to do, he argued.
“There is an inherent, I believe, strain when an elected office has a direct role in the work of another elected office,” Krekorian said. “You could imagine a situation at some point in the future, with some future city attorney where there’s a very stark difference in that city attorney’s political agenda and priorities and the City Council’s policy agenda.”
“This is not in any way a criticism of the city attorney or any of the hard-working deputies who work in that office,” Krekorian stressed.
Other Council members agreed that laws often take too long to draft after being approved by the Council, but they disagreed on the solution.
Councilmen Dennis Zine, Paul Koretz, Bill Rosendahl and others said the problem could be alleviated if the Council restored funding to the city attorney’s office, which has shrunk by about 175 attorneys and support staff due to budget cuts in recent years.
Koretz argued hiring attorneys to work in the chief legislative analyst’s office, as the plan calls for, could be more expensive and could create a new set of political problems with a CLA having to prioritize ordinances important to 15 different Council offices.
“Who’s stuff gets done first? Is it leadership? Is it the first one that asks? Is it the one that pressures the most or who they like the best? No matter what, there’s going to be a little bit of politics involved,” Koretz said.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich vehemently opposes the plan. In a letter sent Tuesday to Wesson, he called it “an extraordinary effort to disrupt the delicate checks and balances established by the city charter.”
Trutanich told Council members that having separate attorneys draft laws “would only create further delay and perhaps more litigation between lawyers within the city who give conflicting opinions.”
Councilmen Zine, Joe Buscaino and Tony Cardenas voted against allowing the plan to go forward at all.