Mayor, City Council Scam Public

Stephen Downing

Political scientist Jessica Trounstine once wrote, “When politicians cease to worry about reelection, they become free to pursue government policy that does not reflect constituent preferences. They acquire the ability to enrich themselves and their supporters or pursue policies that would otherwise lead to their electoral defeat.”

In 1994 the people of Long Beach worked hard to change those politically corrupting practices by passing the Campaign Reform Act (CRA). Its key features that included: 1) limits on contributions; 2) limits on spending; 3) partial public funding; and 4) a time limit on fund raising that barred politicians from accepting money except during the 18-month election cycles.

Politicians and their cronies immediately attacked the people’s initiative, but in the end a galvanized electorate won the fight. The Los Angeles Times trumpeted the CRA reforms as, “A model of what campaign reform should include” and concluded that, “Long Beach is onto something very valuable here.”

The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, citing a 2002 decision by the 9th circuit Court of Appeals, brought a court challenge to the CRA in 2006. Robert Shannon, the elected Long Beach City Attorney at the time, was approached by a collection of downtown chamber of commerce movers and shakers along with their lawyers who – according to media archives – asked Shannon if “the City of Long Beach would voluntarily stop enforcing and revoke the CRA in view of the 2002 Court of Appeal ruling.”

Unlike our current City Attorney Charles Parkin (who last week joined the Garcia/Pearce/Gonzalez scheme at the last minute to slime though a second round of changes to the CRA) Shannon honored his electoral duty to the people and refused, sending the influence peddlers and their lawyers back to the courtroom.

The city won the 2006 lawsuit at the federal court level but later lost one piece of the CRA when the chamber of commerce appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – that handed down a decision ruling that the city could not limit contributions made by political action committees (PACs).

But, the court left the remaining provisions of the act untouched. And they remained untouched until Robert Garcia was elected mayor (by 52.1 percent of the vote) in June 2014 and his council deputy, Lena Gonzalez, was elected to assume Garcia’s vacated council seat. Garcia immediately appointed Gonzales to the Elections Oversight Committee (EOC).

Two months later newly elected City Attorney Charles Parkin sent the EOC a list of recommended changes to the CRA. The committee acted on the recommendations – characterizing their decision as a way to give more back to the community – by recommending that the money cap on office holder accounts be tripled.

According to Parkin’s “legal advice” the recommended measure required only a majority vote (rather than two-thirds or a vote of the electorate). Parkin made no attempt to enlighten his council advisees of a duty to defend the CRA in the manner his predecessor, Shannon, did when the downtown elite challenged the CRA.

Within six months of their election the mayoral trilogy fashioned a measure designed to triple the money cap in front of the full council. It passed on a 5-3 vote, with Gonzalez, Lowenthal, Andrews, Uranga and Richardson voting yes. Price, Mungo and Austin registered no votes following lengthy argument and attempts at reasonable compromise.

In 2016 – following the election that put Jeannine Pearce onto the council and secured Daryl Supernaw’s seat won in a 2015 special election – Pearce, who had been a member of Mayor Garcia’s transition team, was appointed chair of the EOC along with Supernaw and a returning Lena Gonzalez.

Pearce held one meeting (March 14, 2017) of the EOC, and with no supporting documents in the public file, verbally articulated a jumbled rational asking the committee to approve a measure to recommend that the council direct the city manager to “study the feasibility of aligning officeholder accounts to those of state/FPPC regulations.”

Supernaw asked for supporting documentation and received a dismissive explanation that they were just asking for a study. Andrews voted yes without a discussion and Supernaw voted no. The item passed 2-1. 

But a study coming from the city manager was not to happen.

On April 11, 2017 when the “motion to study” was published as Item # 16 on the council agenda it had magically been transformed into a motion to amend the CRA. The council file contained one document from the city attorney’s office that recommended an amendment to the CRA, “pursuant to your request on April 4, 2017.” The second document in the package was the proposed ordinance that would further gut the CRA.

Originally scheduled as agenda item 16 on April 11, Mayor Garcia – with Councilwomen Price having called in to say she would be late because of trafffic and Pearce absent for the full meeting – moved the measure up to first position on the agenda and called for the city clerk to read the secretly altered motion.

Councilman Supernaw was both surprised and flabbergasted. What ordinance? The ordinance came out of thin air. Supernaw protested, saying, “This was supposed to be a recommendation for the city manager to conduct a study?”He received no straight answers from any of his colleagues.

One member of the public, Larry Goodhue, understood the manipulation and spoke up when the mayor asked for public input, saying “This one doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Goodhue was ignored. Garcia called the vote and the measure passed 6-1 with yes votes from Gonzalez, Mungo, Andrews, Uranga, Austin and Richardson. Daryl Supernaw – still bewildered by the disgraceful scam that duped him – voted no.

Councilwomen Price walked in minutes later – the vote was over.

But, the acrid smell of corruption rolled out of council chambers on a strong enough gust to catch the attention of the LB Report editor. He exposed the stealth corruption that same night with the headline: “Council votes to let themselves and the mayor use their contributor-fueled officeholder accounts to support candidates running for other local, state or federal office.”

Social media picked it up and news of the political venality went viral as LB Report continued to feed more to the story with comment and perspective throughout the week. I pitched in a bit myself on Facebook, Twitter and the NextDoor web site.

On the day the second reading was scheduled for a final vote (April 18), the Press Telegram chimed in with an editorial headlined, “Long Beach City Council funds getting too political” and adding that, “They are doing it in a hurry-up way with little public discussion and, some media experts say, in possible violation of the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law.”

On that same day city hall scrambled to provide cover and City Attorney Charles Parkin came to the rescue. His office whipped up a “legal” memo that was distributed it to the mayor and council that gave them the cover they needed by labeling the whole issue as being a “legal” need to comply with state law along with implications that the CRA was now unconstitutional because of the Citizens United Supreme Court case, handed down years before.

I checked Parkin’s memo with Jay Wierenga, communications director for the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). His formal reply established that under state law it would be permissible for local candidates to use funds in the manner in which the proposed changes to the CRA were crafted, “as long as the local jurisdiction doesn’t have rules prohibiting this.”

Parkin’s “legal” memo never addressed that fact. The rules were in place. The CRA was legally and constitutionally intact and were not out of sync with the constitution or state law according to the experts at the FPPC.

Parkin’s April 18 memo never found its way into the public’s council package in time for community consumption or analysis prior to the council meeting that night, but it was tucked into the public files of the April 4 Election Oversight Committee’s record sometime between April 19 and April 24.

On the evening of April 18, the mayor moved the measure from position 24 to the top of the agenda. Members of an aroused public took to the dais and protested the stealth corruption and the restoration of the political money machine. Councilmembers Price and Supernaw offered strong objections. Garcia, Pearce and Gonzalez leaned heavily on the crutch provided by Parkin’s last minute “legal” memo and – in the end – the people’s Campaign Reform Act suffered one more devastating blow – all because the career politicians don’t like the people getting in their way.

Price, Mungo (without comment) and Supernaw voted no. Richardson was absent. The rest of our elected council went for the money.

Mayor Garcia has one opportunity to right the wrong. He can acknowledge the legal facts provided by the official from the Fair Political Practices Commission and veto the measure. According to the City Charter he has until Friday, April 28 by 4:29 p.m. to do so.

I’m not holding my breath.

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.




Who thought this was a good idea? Why would any voter make a contribution to a candidate knowing that it could be redirected to a candidate or campaign that may not reflect that voter's priorities? The time to serve the needs of the people is at hand mayor, VETO THIS MONEY/POWER GRAB DISGUISED AS AN ORDINANCE! I'll remember who sided with the people come election time.

Another spot-on analysis by Stephen Downing. Mayor Garcia has not once properly addressed any of the issues that Stephen has brought to light, over the past several months, through letters and articles. Does the mayor think that Stephen's is a singular voice that can be ignored, or is it that there are inconvenient truths being exposed that can't be legitimized by responses? I think the mayor owes the people of Long Beach intelligent responses on all of these issues. Not the kind he gave the people at the city council meeting where he teed up the city attorney to poorly answer for him, on this particular ordinance. Step out of the shadows Mr. Mayor, and undo this mess. Your silence is telling and you either don't care or understand. The fact remains, people are paying attention and forming their own opinions about you, your actions and your city hall.

This council (exception of three no votes), mayor and city attorney have outdone even themselves. They are the most immature, self-serving and corrupt politicians our fair city has seen. They have taken the phrase "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" to the extreme--all to the cost of Long Beach taxpayers (in terms of lost programs and taxpayer needs that could have been funded with office holder accounts). It is legalized theft at its finest.

If the people of this city choose to vote for these bloated corruptors again, then they only have themselves to blame and the shame will be on them. If donors continue to give them money, then shame on them. NO MONEY AND NO VOTES FOR THE CORRUPT SEVEN -- that's my mantra and I'm sticking to it.

One can hardly believe that the mayor and councilpersons named stooped to such levels, without thinking the public would not take notice. Garcia can veto and not sign off and he has until Friday. I can only remain hopeful he will do the right thing. The appearances he continues to give is of great concern, however this recent action was televised and it is most outrageous. The funds that apparently will be diverted away from the city could be better spent within Long Beach. If they have a mind of gifting monies contributed to each of them, then give it back to improve areas within their own districts or other councilpersons that can spent it for good reasons. Mayor Garcia, you really should be ashamed; however you do have an opportunity to make it right.

Stop this action from going forward and use your veto power the people entrusted you to exercise.

Thank you for the very detailed and factual piece. This action by the majority of our city council disturbs me deeply. I am also offended that those who did support this change, going against a decision made by LB voters, chose not to publicly defend or explain their reasons why they support this new policy. I have a better idea, take it back to the public for a 2018 decision.

I am hoping as well that Mayor Garcia will steer this into the light. Do the right thing. Support the 1994 intent of Long Beach voters to reduce corruption in our campaign process. In 2006 the Chamber was bent out of shape because they wanted to use their money in Sacramento to go against our own city policies. Shannon did a good job defending the will of the people.

In politics, there are times when the politicos simply wait for the heat to blow over and life goes on to the next big issue. Let's not let that happen on this issue! The big money loves the cloak of "Citizens United." A cover to super fund campaigns. The people on the other hand have been trying to get it repealed for years. Now our local politicians, beginning with the newest council woman, are feeding into the misleading and potentially corrupt practices their constituents do not believe in.

Keep an eye on the nine Long Beach races that will begin their campaigns. See where the money goes and then vote accordingly!

Great job, Steve! Thank you for writing such a detailed account!

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