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Proposed Changes to Santa Monica Anti-Corruption Law Possibly Headed to Ballot
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 12, 2016 -- The Santa Monica City Council took the first steps on Tuesday toward the possible amending of an anti-corruption law.

Residents will have the final say on this because any changes to what’s known as the Oaks Initiative would need to be approved in an election to go into effect.

This action came two weeks after an intense council session in which the City leaders discussed a consultant’s report that said Councilmember Pam O’Connor had taken inappropriate actions that led to the firing of a new communications director before her first day of work (“Santa Monica Council Member Criticized by Colleagues,” April 28, 2016).

In that same report, the consultant John Hueston, a prominent litigator with expertise in ethics law, recommended the City amend the Oaks Initiative.

This initiative was approved by voters in 2000 and prohibits City officials from receiving campaign contributions or other “benefits” from people or groups who receive a “benefit,” such as contracts, because of that official’s decision.

“The Oaks Initiative has commendable goals that need to be preserved but could also be advanced more effectively,” Hueston wrote.

He continued, “The best practice we recommend therefore is to pass an amendment to the Oaks Initiative that improves its implementation and enforcement.”

The amendment would need to be approved by voters because the original law was approved this way.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie told the council on Tuesday that she would propose specific language for a November ballot measure in the coming weeks. The council would be able to finalize the language.

The council approved “guidelines” on Tuesday for the Oaks Initiative that clarified various technical items in the law. The vote was 6-0 with O’Connor absent. She left the meeting before discussion of this item began.

These guidelines were also recommended by Hueston and do not require voter approval. Some of what's included in the guidelines is similar to what Hueston proposed should go into the amendment.

“These guidelines constitute a clarification and interpretation of the initiative, and with that in hand effectuating it will be much easier,” Moutrie told the council.

When council members decide on the language that will go onto the ballot measure, they could request further changes be included. The final language would need approval from at least four members of the council.

The Oaks Initiative was placed on the ballot in 2000 after a voter-signature drive. Many city officials objected to it, fearing that it violated free speech issues and was not enforceable.

They unsuccessfully attempted to fight it in court.

A 2006 measure placed on the ballot by the council through a 4-1 vote sought to replace the Oaks Initiative with a less restrictive version (“Council Places Amendments to Anti-Corruption Initiative on Ballot,” August 15, 2006).

The measure was rejected, with 53 percent of people voting against it that November (“Local Voters Take Initiative,” November 9, 2006).

Hueston concluded in his report that the Oaks Initiative, which has been mostly unenforced by the City, was enforceable.

He recommended that complaints be referred to the Criminal Division of the City Attorney’s Office or to an outside counsel. The council voted two weeks ago in favor of immediately beginning that policy.

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