November 10, 2015
Dear Santa Monica City Council:
The Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) Board of Directors supports the hiring of an attorney or public policy consultant with extensive experience and expertise in doing investigations to probe what happened in the Elizabeth Riel firing case, as well as how the City has been handling matters under the Oaks Initiative. We also request that the investigation include looking into Mayor McKeown’s abuse of his authority and power to force the Board of Directors of the Pico Youth &Family Center (PYFC) to remove Oscar de la Torre from his position as Executive Director in exchange for public funding. We call your attention to the City Council meeting of January 8, 2013 as evidence of this quid pro quo request. Furthermore, we call your attention to a letter that was made public in late June, 2015 where PNA members are on the public record acknowledging that after a SMRR meeting Mayor McKeown stated that PYFC will only receive funding if Oscar de la Torre is removed from his position as Executive Director of the PYFC.
The recent decision-making of elected Councilmembers in influencing the City Manager’s office on personnel matters is problematic because politics should not interfere with the proper and legal management of government. Our governance system protects the decision making authority of the City Manager for good reason. Similarly, it is not right or legal for elected officials to use their power to force a grantee of the City to make a personnel decision in exchange for public dollars. If the PYFC Board would have taken the action requested by Mayor McKeown, it would have brought great legal liability to the PYFC and possibly the City. More public dollars would have been wasted.
The PNA Board wants to ensure that our City government includes our request as part of the overall investigation and scope of services. Ultimately, we seek a better government where objective review of fact and not personal or political bias governs our decision making. The same institutional culture that led to the hiring/firing debacle of Elizabeth Riel allowed for the Mayor to make unlawful requests related to a personnel matter of a long standing City grantee. We feel that a proper review of this incident will lead to best practices in how our elected officials interact with grantees and in decisions related to the City’s personnel matters.
We understand that the City Charter prohibits City Council members from using their position to force a City staff hiring or firing decision on the City Manager’s office. We believe the spirit of the law applies to grantees. As the City establishes and enhances best practices in how to make hiring and firing decisions of employees in an ethical and transparent manner we believe the analysis should also include grantees. Grantees play an important role in enhancing the well being of our residents and the funding decisions by the City Council can be highly politicized. Having clearer rules of engagement between elected officials and grantees on these decisions will benefit our City. In addition, the residents of Santa Monica must be provided with the full findings of an independent investigation of how the City of Santa Monica has fared in its implementation of the Oaks Initiative.
In conclusion, The City of Santa Monica has a very bad track record of enforcing its own internal laws and regulations. For this review and investigation to have real meaning, the scope of the work should include a review of why we consistently fail to implement our rules and regulations. We need to understand where the breakdown occurs in our government. Ensuring that the scope of the contract also includes this review will send a message that this administration is serious about restoring the public trust.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
PNA Board of Directors