By Tom Moutes, RLACEI Legislative Director
Before Mayor Eric Garcetti departs as either the U.S. Ambassador to India (he has been nominated by President Joe Biden) or he’s termed out, it would be great if he could give two small but significant LACERS-related gifts on his way out.
LACERS should propose to the City Council that the City Charter be amended to stipulate that an appointed board member may be removed prior to the end of his or her term, but only for cause relating to the board member’s fiduciary or statutory duties, and that if an appointed board member is removed from office prior to the expiry of his or her term, that the reason(s) for such removal be publicly disclosed.
This recommendation is from 2013 Management Audit of LACERS conducted on behalf of the City Controller, City Council, and Mayor – not LACERS. It is not a coincidence that this recommendation was made after two perfectly good LACERS Board members, Roberta Conroy and Jerry Bardwell, were dismissed from the board (their pre-signed letters of resignation were accepted) by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
So, what is wrong with the mayor removing board members? For most City boards, the mayor probably should have the authority to dismiss board members without specific cause, but pension systems are different. By law, the primary duty of California public pension board members is to the members of their pension plan – not to the mayor or anyone else. The California Constitution indicates that, “A retirement board’s duty to its participants and their beneficiaries shall take precedence over any other duty.” This helps protect the pension systems from political influence, especially in a situation like LACERS, where the mayor appoints a majority of the board members – four of the seven members.
When LACERS board members need to discuss items that may impact the City budget, it can be difficult for them to have that discussion free of political influence – explicit or perceived – if the mayor’s representative is pacing in the back of the board room, having a conversation with them in the hallway just before their vote (real life examples), or if they believe the mayor may dismiss them from the Board if they vote in a way the mayor does not like (as Ms. Conroy appeared to be doing in 2011 by Mayor Villaraigosa).
What Parting Gifts Can Mayor Garcetti Give?
There are two parting gifts Mayor Garcetti can give to the hard working women and men who have served the City: (1) Don’t require pre-signed letters of resignation for pension system board members; and (2) Publicly support the audit recommendation that an appointed Board member may be removed prior to the end of his or her term, but only for cause relating to the Board member’s fiduciary or statutory duties, and that if an appointed Board member is removed from office prior to the expiry of his or her term, that the reason(s) for such removal be publicly disclosed.
If these gifts are granted on Mayor Garcetti’s way out, they won’t impact him, but they will help ensure that support of good Board governance can be one of his legacies.