Last Friday, while residents around the county made preparations for Hurricane Hilary, the Los Angeles City Council was supposed to proceed on a routine vote: Jamie York, a member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, was set to be appointed to the City Ethics Commission.

The vote, however, was not routine. Unusually: Every member of the LA City Council present voted to block York’s appointment, and moved the vote to proceed without public comment. The only unaccounted for vote was Councilmember Nithya Raman, who was not present — every other councilmember voted no.

And most won’t say why.  

LA Public Press reached out to all fifteen city council offices. Almost all would not comment on the record about their vote, the exception being Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez. Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez, who did not return a request for comment, spoke about his vote at a recent meeting.  

Hernandez tells LA Public Press that she and her office’s focus was on the vote to acquire the Mayfair Hotel, and that she didn’t have the time that she would have liked to research York. 

“I understand why [Jamie York] is upset and do wish that this had gone down differently. The Ethics Commission would very much benefit from her experience and background. I think it’s important we talk about this. Time and time again we see with elected officials — and now I’m one of them — is that it’s not seen as a political strength, and that results in distrust among people who supported us and voted us in. I just want to take a moment to own this.”

David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition (a California nonprofit organiztion that advocates for more open government), said that the decision to vote without public comment is troubling. 

“It is odd and troubling that a city councilmember in the middle of a meeting moved to change the agenda item from approve to disapprove, and that the council seems to have voted on that, creating confusion as to what does a yes vote mean and what does a no vote mean. That’s certainly questionable,” said David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, in an email.

Loy says he isn’t sure whether there were any violations of the legal requirements of the Brown Act — a state transparency law that governs how public meetings are conducted — because, technically, the public still had notice that a vote on York’s appointment would be taking place. 

However, he says it does raise troubling concerns: “Even if the City Council complied with the bare minimum of the letter of the law, the spirit of the law would require more proactive transparency around this. If there were backroom deals going on, the public deserves to know what turned the tide on this appointment.”

York was recommended for the position by City Controller Keneth Mejia, who also seemed blindsided by the refusal to approve.

The procedural maneuvers the Councilmembers engaged in to stymie the vote were complex. Prior to the vote, Councilmember Monica Rodriguez submitted an amendment to the motion to approve Mejia’s recommended appointment, changing the language from approval of York’s appointment to “disapprove.”

LAPP reached out to all Councilmembers about their vote, and asked Raman if she would vote for York if Mejia were to re-submit his recommendation, but almost none responded to explain their vote. 

Councilmember Heather Hutt would not answer questions about the vote, when confronted directly after the meeting, and staff attempted to block us from asking her further questions, directing us to reach out to her office. The office has not responded to an email asking for comment about the vote. 

Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky emailed a constituent asking about the vote saying that she was concerned about York’s background as a political fundraiser. Rob Quan of Unrig LA noted that Ethics Commission President Jeff Daar raised money as a candidate for office one year before being appointed to the commission. 

York tells LAPP that she believes her past political experience gives her a unique insight into “considering campaign finance reforms,” and says that she takes the duty to recuse very seriously. “I would always consult with the City Attorney on any potential conflicts-of-interest, just as I have on my Neighborhood Council.”

Council President Paul Krekorian provided a statement to the LA Times saying that he had concerns over York being an “advocate.”He further added that Controller Mejia did not advocate for York’s appointment with councilmembers or address issues Councilmembers had with York, despite no public meeting taking place where any of the appointment was discussed by Council. 

The Times further criticized the LA City Council for leaving the Ethics Commission seat open, and said that its “failure to fill the seat makes it impossible for the Ethics Commission to do its work, which includes enforcing campaign finance, contracting, lobbying and conflict of interest laws.”

Sergio Perez, the chief of accountability and oversight in Controller Mejia’s office, says that York was the most qualified candidate for the position in recent years. Perez previously served as the director of enforcement for LA’s Ethics Commission, and as the inspector general for the Department of Water & Power. 

Public comment given during the meeting was united in support of York’s appointment, and communications submitted to the council file from numerous neighborhood councils also indicated a high level of support for York, who has been instrumental in organizing around reforming LA city’s Municipal Lobbying Ordinance

Last year, leaked audio of racist comments made by of multiple LA city councilmembers meeting with former-president Ron Herrera of the LA County Federation of Labor, demonstrated that the labor union has had behind-closed-doors influence on the city’s elections and redistricting process, which led to Councilmember Raman — who has also not commented on whether or not she supported York’s appointment — to call for reforms.

But it seems the move to reform lobbying laws has earned York at least one enemy. 

At an East Hollywood Neighborhood Council meeting last night, CD13 Councilmember Soto-Martínez responded to written questions asking about his vote on the appointment. 

“I can’t speak for the rest of my colleagues, but I did not intend to vote for her. In her position talking about the lobbying ordinance, she did not really distinguish between worker-run organizations like labor unions and corporations. I don’t believe labor unions should be treated like corporations,” he said. “There is a larger issue that’s happening with the progressive left. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of good work … but a lot of the folks on the progressive left see labor as an enemy.”

When asked if he had discussed the appointment of York with any labor unions, Soto-Martínez would not respond and directed us to reach out to his office. After following up once again with the office, a spokesperson for the office said they would be offering no further comment on the matter. 

York says that Soto-Martínez misrepresented her position on labor unions, and that she only supports labor unions having to register lobbying activity above a certain threshold — not activity by rank-and-file members. She says she only wants those whose duties are primarily lobbing to be considered lobbyists. She also supports exemptions for labor unions surrounding contract negotiations. 

“I believe that unions are the backbone of economic empowerment for everyday Angelenos,” York said. “Ethics reforms have to be carefully nuanced in their approach.”