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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/11/22

Los Angeles Government Drowns In Ethical Crises

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"We must collectively believe in reaching the soul of our students and uplifting their character through an educational experience that is replete with models of courage and integrity." - Board District 6 Candidate Marvin Rodriguez

As the agency responsible for upholding law and order, the Sheriff's Department should be beyond reproach in its behavior starting with its leader, Sheriff Alex Villanueva. While Villanueva may have run as a reformer, he has been a fierce defender of the status quo, defying watchdog subpoenas and battling any attempt by the County Supervisors to provide checks on his department. Instead of rooting out gang-like behavior amongst his deputies, he sent out a cease-and-desist letter in an attempt to have county supervisors stop using the phrase "deputy gangs." Not surprisingly, this leadership has resulted in a culture of lawlessness throughout the department.

One of Villanueva's adversaries on the Board Of Supervisors, Mark Ridley-Thomas (MRT), has been indicted for using his position to gain benefits for an unnamed relative. This relative is believed to be his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who himself was forced from the California State Assembly after allegations of sexual misconduct. The younger Ridley Thomas was also hired as a paid consultant for the LAUSD by former Superintendent Austin Beutner.

Before his arrest, MRT had segued to the Los Angeles City Council, which has been placed under the microscope by federal investigators. Former councilmember Mitch Englander has already been convicted for his participation in a weekend of debauchery in Vegas that was illegally paid for by developers. His successor, John Lee, was also present for these festivities and is thought to be "City Staffer B," who according to details released in the Englander case conspired with Englander to cover up the crimes and post-dated a check to make it appear that he had paid back these expenses within the time frame allowed by law. The Los Angeles City Attorney's office (a department led by mayoral candidate Mike Feuer) then tried to prevent Neighborhood Councils from asking questions about the incident.

Englander was caught accidentally by federal law enforcement that was actually investigating his colleague, Jose Huizar. Councilman Huizar, a mentor to the LAUSD's Monica Garcia, was indicted on multiple charges after a search of his home where approximately $129,000 in cash was seized.

Before becoming mayor, Eric Garcetti served on the City Council with both Englander and Huizar. While he has so far escaped being tied to the escapades of his former colleagues, Garcetti's nomination to be the ambassador to India is currently being held up due to charges that he "ignored accusations of sexual misconduct" by his former top advisor.

The school district has also lost a member due to ethical crimes. Board District 5's representative, Ref Rodriguez, was forced from office after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges relating to his laundering of money for his 2017 campaign. Before being indicted, Rodriguez was voted by board members Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin to be the Board President even though details of his improper activity were publicly known. Neither of these board members, who are currently running for reelection, called for their ally to leave the board after he was charged and both blocked appointing Jackie Goldberg to the seat while a special election was held.

The constant barrage of scandals has eroded confidence in government institutions at a time when we are facing unprecedented crises. To successfully implement needed changes, our representatives must regain the electorate's trust. With this in mind, I sent the following questions to the ten candidates facing the voters on June 7, 2022:

  1. Former LAUSD Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill was employed by the district but his salary was paid for by Eli Broad, creating a conflict of interest and questions about whose strategy he was pursuing. More recently, the board approved a no-bid contract with Leadership for Education Equity where the organization's fellows would pursue "policy opportunities." If elected, would you vote to ban these types of arrangements? If not, how would you ensure that the people working under these contracts do not allow their loyalty to the people providing their paycheck to interfere with their obligations to the students of the district?
  2. In May 2018 LAUSD Board member Nick Melvoin held a meeting with the California Charter School Association (CCSA) where he disclosed confidential information obtained from the district's attorneys regarding a lawsuit the charter school industry's trade group had filed against the district. Do you find this type of disclosure to be acceptable? If not, what steps would you take as a board member to deal with this type of leak?
  3. Also in 2018, the LAUSD Board was accused of violating the Brown Act during the hiring process for Austin Beutner. In response, Board Member Scott Schmerelson disclosed key points of the closed-door deliberations in a public forum. Do you find this type of disclosure to be acceptable? If not, what steps would you take as a board member to deal with this type of leak
  4. The Inspector General's office has been widely seen as ineffective since the district's pro-charter school industry majority orchestrated the departure of Ken Bramlett. As a board member, what would you do to ensure the independence of this office?
  5. By law, the LAUSD is responsible for overseeing the charter schools that it authorizes. Is the district's role as a regulator compromised by the $18.6 million that the charter school industry has spent on the campaigns of past and present school board members? Do you believe that board members who receive contributions from the industry should recuse themselves from votes regarding charter schools? What actions would you take as a board member to prevent conflicts of interest stemming from campaign financing?

These questions were an opportunity for Gonez and Melvoin to defend their record, but neither responded. In fact, only two candidates provided responses. The links to their responses are as follows:

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Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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