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Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, 13th District, has launched an online feature on the City of Los Angeles website enabling viewers to see how often their council representatives are present for meetings.
Garcetti launched the website feature in October to make city council meeting attendance more transparent. There is no limit to the number of meetings a councilmember can miss, as long as the absences have been excused ahead of time by Garcetti. While the absences generally do not cause disruptions to the council meetings, they did contribute to a council meeting being cancelled on Jan. 25, because five members of the council were granted absences, and two others were late, leading to a lack of a quorum.
The council meetings are held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and begin at 10 a.m. Ten councilmembers must be present to have a quorum, and Garcetti cancelled the meeting at 10:15 a.m. after Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, and Councilmember Jose Huizar, 14th District, were late.
Both Koretz and Huizar reportedly arrived within minutes after the meeting had been cancelled. Koretz said he had been caught in traffic and was pulling into the garage at city hall when the meeting was called. Koretz added that he gets the message about punctuality that Garcetti was sending by cancelling the meeting.
“We know the rules, I hit heavy traffic and obviously I cut it too close, and since then I make sure I don’t cut it that close,” Koretz said. “Certainly, it will never happen again, and I apologize to the residents of the City of Los Angeles who had attended that meeting.”
According to Huizar’s spokesperson, Rick Coca, the councilmember was in the elevator on his way to the council meeting when it was cancelled. Coca added that Huizar had just returned to city hall following a press conference near downtown Los Angeles that morning to announce the opening of a new restaurant that would create 75 jobs. He said Huizar also apologized and has vowed to be at each meeting on time in the future.
“First and foremost, the councilmember apologized for not being there on time. He was in the elevator, and had they waited another minute, he would have been there,” Coca added. “It’s unfortunate, but his responsibility is to be there on time, and he will be there on time.”
Yusef Robb, a spokesperson for Garcetti, said the Council President cancelled the meeting because he wanted to send the message that the meetings need to begin on time. Robb added that there have been no problems since then, and added that he could recall only one time in the past few years when a situation occurred where there was a lack of quorum.
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, the council meeting is held and it is held on time,” Robb said. “Council President Garcetti called the meeting because all the councilmembers who were not excused were not in the chamber, and the result has been that the meetings are now starting sharply at ten o’clock.”
Robb added that the attendance records published on the city’s website reflect absences that were excused. He said the City Charter does not place a limit on the number of absences a councilmember can have. Garcetti is responsible for taking attendance, and representatives from the Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office work in tandem with Garcetti’s staff in keeping the records. Attendance is taken at the beginning and end of each meeting, and is also tabulated during the meeting when votes are taken. Since the records were placed on the website, the highest number of absences for a month has been six. Councilmember Greig Smith, 12th District, had six absences in October, but all were excused for city or personal business. Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, 11th District, was also excused for six meetings in January while he was recovering from surgery.
Robb said Garcetti grants excused absences based on the councilmembers’ request, unless it threatens the ability to have a quorum.
“Excuses must be requested by a councilmember, and there is no advance requirement. We ask them to request it in advance a far as they possibly can, and it is a first-come, first served situation,” Robb added. “The excuses we get are without fail, legitimate. Often times they are for city business, whether it is for meetings in government or community meetings in their district, or the life excuses we all have, like dental surgery or medical problems. There are rarely any problems, and the city’s business is being conducted.”
Other than the date in January when the meeting was cancelled, Koretz has been absent three times with excused absences since October, according to the online records. Garcetti was absent twice on excused absences in the same period, as was Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District. LaBonge said he was absent to attend a funeral for member of the fire department on one date, and for an event in the community on the other day. However, LaBonge added that he believes attendance is crucial and said the cancellation of the meeting on Jan. 25 has been a reminder for the entire council.
“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get together and the meeting had to be cancelled,” LaBonge said. “But I don’t think it is going to happen again for a long while.”
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After the January 25th cancelled meeting, Eric said “we need to respect the public’s time”, which is funny, b/c when Eric pulls the trigger on cancelling the meeting so quickly, he is really NOT respecting the public’s time. People drove from all over to speak against the CRA Item on that day’s agenda, and they knew that they were blowing out 1/2 of their day to do so, and Eric knew that. Council meetings usually start late…it’s funny how, when there’s a controversial item on the agenda, Eric is only willing to wait 17 minutes, before ending the meeting, which means everybody has to come back again another day, and Eric gets a few hours off and gets to avoid a controversy for another day. It’s not about our convenience; it’s about his convenience.
Also, I can’t remember how many times I’ve waited more than an hour or even hours to speak at City Hall hearings (and they only let us speak for 1 or 2 minutes), but Eric can’t wait more than 17 minutes…he gave this same schpiel last time I remember him cancelling a meeting.