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Amendments to Santa Monica’s Anti-Corruption Law Headed for Ballot
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

July 5, 2016 -- After a discussion among officials and activists that only a lawyer could love, the City Council on Tuesday directed staff to craft a ballot measure to strengthen Santa Monica's anti-corruption law.

The five council members in attendance capped more than an hour of discussion and mild debate by approving the details for the measure, and staff will present finalized ballot language for approval at the next meeting.

The law, known as the Oaks Initiative, prohibits City officials from receiving benefits, including campaign contributions and employment opportunities, from people or groups that receive benefits from the City based on that official’s decisions.

Strengthening this law was recommended earlier this year in a report issued by consultant John Hueston, who is a prominent litigator with expertise in ethics law ("Santa Monica Ethics Review Finds Lapses in Judgement," April 20, 2016).

Any change to the Oaks Initiative requires the voters' blessing since the initiative became law after residents approved it in 2000.

Among the proposed changes are clarifications of definitions for terms in the law and placing enforcement in the hands of the City Attorney’s criminal division or an independent investigator.

The proposed measure also would declare that the law applies outside Santa Monica so that a person cannot receive the benefit as an official in another city.

Earlier this year, the council approved guidelines for the Oaks Initiative to clarify various technicalities of the law that did not require voter approval. These guidelines were also recommended by Hueston ("Proposed Changes to Santa Monica Anti-Corruption Law Possibly Headed to Ballot," May 12, 2016).

Placing this measure on the ballot comes at a time of closer scrutiny of ethics issues in Santa Monica.

The Hueston report was issued in response to allegations about the handling of the Elizabeth Riel affair two years ago in which an employee’s job offer was rescinded before her first day of work.

The Oaks Initiative, never a favorite of City staff due to supposed legal issues it created, has mostly gone unenforced since its approval in 2000.

This non-enforcement was noted in Hueston's report. He determined it was enforceable and would be improved with the changes.

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