CA City Council to Vote on Expanding Ethics Commission’s Power

East Bay Express: “The second prong of a plan by city Councilmember Dan Kalb to increase transparency and accountability in City Hall calls for the council to approve the Oakland Government Ethics Act. The act would give the ethics commission the power to enforce a new, sweeping set of ethics rules in the city. The council is scheduled to hold a final vote on the act on December 9.

“As strange as it sounds, the Oakland Public Ethics Commission (PEC), created by city voters in 1996, has never had the authority to actually enforce ethics rules, in part because Oakland didn’t have a comprehensive set of regulations like other cities do. Instead, the PEC has focused mostly on political campaign reporting violations, local open-meeting violations, and other issues. However, the PEC lacked the staff and authority to actually do anything about those violations when it found evidence of them.

“Measure CC, a city charter amendment, changed that aspect of the PEC. It mandated that the city council, beginning on July 1 of next year, increase the PEC’s budget from about $300,000 a year to about $750,000 a year so that the commission can hire four additional full-time staffers. Currently, the PEC only has a budget for two full-time staffers — not enough to effectively investigate campaign finance and open-meeting laws.”

“But not included in Measure CC was a comprehensive set of ethics rules. And that’s where the Oakland Government Ethics Act comes in. Drafted by Kalb and a working group of good-government advocates and co-sponsored by City Attorney Barbara Parker, the act would give the PEC the power to enforce new rules that ban so-called revolving-door and pay-to-play politics and limit the value of gifts that politicians can receive from lobbyists and other special interests.”

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