Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Ethics Commissioner Fleming Resigns to Campaign for Valley Secession
By NAZANIN AGANGE, Staff Writer
Universal City attorney David W. Fleming resigned from the Los Angeles city Ethics Commission yesterday, saying he will devote his energies in the coming months to the campaign for a new city in the San Fernando Valley.
Fleming, who has been the chairman of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley since 1995, disclosed his plans during yesterday’s Ethics Commission meeting. The major action taken at the meeting was a vote to find Councilman Nate Holden and the treasurer of his 1999 reelection committee in violation of city campaign contribution laws.
He announced later in the day, at a Studio City press conference, that his resignation was effective immediately.
“It is obvious to me that a fundamental reorganization of Los Angeles city government is needed now, more than ever, to make local control and accountability a reality,” Fleming said in a statement. “It is also obvious to me that change can only be brought about externally—by the voters of this city—and not by the few who dominate and control city government.”
Fleming said he had been involved in Valley reform for so long—since 1997—that “I finally decided I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines from now until the November election.”
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, in an opinion issued earlier this year, said that commissioners may not support, oppose, finance, or in any way take part in any cityhood campaigns. Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said that Ethics Commissioners are prohibited from contributing and participating in any political campaigns.
Delgadillo, who appointed Fleming to the commission in August of last year, said in a statement:
“David contacted me this morning regarding his decision. He’s been a great leader for the city of Los Angeles and a principle leader of the Ethics Commission. It will be very difficult to replace him. We shall do our best to fill David’s large shoes.”
The City Attorney’s Office plans to “take our time to find a qualified candidate to nominate for the Ethics Commission” in Fleming’s place, Mateljan said.
At the Ethics Commission meeting, Fleming at first tried to abstain from the vote on the charges against Holden and Anne Froehlich, saying that since he was resigning he felt he should not vote. He had, however, participated in other aspects of the meeting with questions and comments before the board turned its discussion toward Holden.
Deputy City Attorney Anthony Alperin told Fleming that he could not abstain and that a non-vote would be regarded as a vote in favor of the findings. Fleming then voted against the findings, which were adopted by a 3-1 vote.
Commissioner Dale Bonner was not present.
The formal adoption of the findings, delayed from last month’s meeting, was made when commissioners reopened the meeting after a rare closed session.
Commission President Miriam Krinsky said that Fleming told her about his decision during a fire drill that interrupted the meeting before the Holden findings had been discussed.
“I’m sorry to see [Fleming] leave the commission, but given the conflict that would arise from being on the commission and part of secession efforts, I understand his decision,” Krinsky said.
The commission found Holden and Froehlich to have committed 31 violations, including 20 instances of requesting and receiving “matching funds” from the city that they were not eligible for. City laws allow candidates, who have collected $25,000 or more, to have up to $250 of any single campaign contribution matched by city funds.
Holden’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, took issue with the charges, claiming that they were based on “enabling statutes” that were only meant to offer a formula for auditing campaigns, rather than a law that someone could be found in violation of.
This was an issue that Alperin had brought up at a previous Ethics Commission meeting, and Chief Deputy City Attorney Terree Bowers said he agreed with the councilman’s position in a letter to Holden, Geragos said.
Geragos argued that the findings were a misapplication of the law and no evidence showed the councilman or Froehlich purposely violated the rules. He told the commissioners it would be pointless to approve the findings, which he said have “fatal flaws,” because they would be invalidated by a court anyway.
Commission Director of Enforcement Deena R. Ghaly retorted that Geragos was making an “empty threat.” She argued that there was no legal basis for claiming the rules did not apply and compared the breaches to a speeding ticket: “there’s no need to show intent to speed.”
She added that both Holden and Froehlich had admitted being aware that there were possible violations of campaign contribution collections, but the Ethics Commission did not pursue it, not wanting a smear campaign.
Ghaly said there was no need for the commission to reopen discussion on the matter since the panel had already held extensive discussions and made a decision.
“This is not last minute-this is way after the last minute,” she said.
Krinsky agreed, saying that she saw the introduction of new objections, when Holden had every opportunity to obtain a lawyer before, as an unnecessary delay.
The board went into closed session on Alperin’s advice and emerged to adopt the findings and order Holden and Froehlich to pay a fine of $6,500 within 60 days.
Geragos plans to submit a writ to petition to the Los Angeles Superior Court.
“I believe, once we take the matter to the Superior Court, we will prevail,” he said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company