THE LETTER OF THE LAW
The Spirit of the Law.
Often, especially in politics, two very different things. In fact, the letter of the law is often what’s thrown up to mask that the spirit of the law is being ignored and violated.
What is the spirit of the law? It’s that which the law was intended to accomplish.
If a group can claim to be within the letter of the law, they can hope you never find out what they have really done, which is likely against the spirit of the law. If outed, they can throw up their hands in innocence and argue with a straight face that their letter compliance is actually the correct path.
We hear the word transparency so often, but actually bump right into it so rarely. There is a tendency among politicians and bureaucrats, from the president down to the hall monitor, to believe that their having been elected or even appointed into a position of power is a recognition of their superior faculties of wisdom and knowledge, a mandate, if you will, that should not be thwarted by the citizenry or even the encumbrances of rules or the law. You might call that
“The interference of a state or individual with another person, against their will or knowledge, and defended or motivated by a claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm.”
I believe it is rampant in all levels of the governance of Santa Monica, and that it explains a lot that otherwise seems mysterious, nefarious or just plain wrong. Father knows best, therefore the input and certainly the disagreement of mere mortals is not needed or wanted. Keeping things as hidden as possible to the public becomes a good thing.
Sometimes these issues are weighty, sometimes trivial or just a matter of opinion. Transparency is not easy or preferred for any officials, I know that. Just let me do my job for which I have been trained or elected, and we’ll all be better off in the long run, the big picture. Trust me.
But imagine a world, or just our city, where transparency was the overriding principle. Where every staff report and Council discussion, School Board edict and police practice, was predicated first on transparency. That means not only honesty but disclosure of all relevant facts, and the consideration of options.
Yeah, I know, dream on. But why not? If it were known that that’s how things work here we might get a different type of person looking to fill those positions of public trust.
These matters are, of course, quite subjective. And not every lack of transparency is a cover-up. But I would rather see us err on the side of openness. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples.
An anonymous email was sent a week ago to City Council members (but not Kevin McKeown, he claims) and Acting City Manager Lane Dilg, noting that a portion of a spending authorization approved by Council included a “grandfathered” benefit, which was in fact payment for Internet access for Council member McKeown, and only McKeown. But the authorization did not name him, nor even what the item referred to. It amounts to $206/month and has been paid since at least 2018, wrote “SM Anonymous,” and documentation was attached.
I wrote to McKeown about this and he responded promptly, as he always has (that’s a sliver of transparency, isn’t it? — kind of depending on the response), and with a note of humor, putting CABLEGATE in his email subject line. Kudos always for a sense of humor, something often lacking in politicians.
“I believe the City Manager has already made a statement on this. I’m copying her in case she wishes to provide it to you,” he wrote. She hasn’t, yet.
McKeown continued, “The most recent resolution authorizing that ongoing support was passed by the new, current, City Council just three months ago, as part of the midyear budget review, with a full public hearing, and the vote was, I believe, unanimous.”
Now see, there we go. All true, I believe, but…”a full public hearing”? That gives the impression of the authorization dissected and subject to public comment, a public well notified of the hearing and aware of the details. And that almost never happens. (I give you our School Board.)
He noted that the City reimburses him only for the Internet portion of his cable bill, and that he just renegotiated for a different package that will lower that bill, effective next month. A small pat on the back, Kevin.
But he did not answer these questions: Do you feel it is justified that this benefit goes to only one Council member, and if so, why? Do you know who on staff drew up that document that you all voted on? Did you contact one or more people on staff to advocate for or otherwise comment on it? Did you request language that did not reveal your name as the sole beneficiary? Or even what that grandfathered benefit was?
I’m clear this is not a big deal at all. Kind of amusing, actually, as McKeown acknowledged. But lack of transparency in government is not, and I would like to see a shift to openness not obfuscation. A new mindset, from council to staff to School Board. I addressed this in a recent CURIOUS CITY.
MIRAMAR CONFLICT OF INTEREST
I also wrote to Councilmember Gleam Davis concerning her discussions and votes over the last eight years on the massive Miramar project, because of the involvement of her husband; and to her husband John Prindle, about his involvement in the Main Street remake as a member of the Ocean Park Association Board, which the Council voted on last session.
Being a lawyer, Davis’ response was the length of a legal “brief” and I will have to let you know more about that next column. She did clear up a few misconceptions which you should know about, but there is also that ubiquitous matter of “political” language. Prindle did not respond, probably because Davis addressed those questions in her email to me. And she did write back nearly as quickly as McKeown. Hey, it’s a start.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org