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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

FLEMING—Ethics Position Curbs Advocacy Role for Fleming

The secession movement may have lost one of its most vocal advocates and Valley VOTE, the group pushing for a municipal breakup, appears to have lost one of its largest contributors in David Fleming. The attorney and chairman of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley said Thursday he would likely no longer be able to contribute money to Valley VOTE because of his appointment in August to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. Fleming and Galpin Motors owner Burt Boeckman are known by many to be two of the organization’s top financial contributors. But because of commission guidelines, Fleming cannot contribute to a political campaign or lobbying effort of any kind and, although Valley VOTE calls itself an “educational” entity, the same laws would apply to it if and when a secession initiative is put on the ballot in 2002, Fleming said. Fleming said Thursday he has the option of contributing to Valley VOTE up to and until the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) clears the way for a ballot initiative, but has chosen to err on the side of caution. “I will not contribute any further to Valley VOTE,” said Fleming. “I can give my opinion on something if they call me and ask me for it, but I’m now bound by the rules that pertain to these issues and I have to do what is fair.” Fleming said he gave Valley VOTE $40,000 to fund the group’s initial petition drive in 1998 to get the city and LAFCO to conduct a formal study on secession. He also made Valley VOTE a $15,000 loan the same year. Fleming was appointed to the commission by newly elected City Attorney Rockard “Rocky” Delgadillo after he was booted off the city fire commission by Mayor James Hahn a maneuver viewed by many city hall insiders as political tit-for-tat related to secession and Valley politics. Fleming replaces Rev. Monsignor Terrance Fleming (no relation), whose term expired in August. Appointments for the five-year terms must be approved by the full city council and members can only be removed for cause, according to Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham. Despite the fact Fleming has been one of Valley VOTE’s biggest contributors, Chairman Richard Close said he did not view Fleming’s appointment or inability to contribute money as a serious blow. He said Valley VOTE has already received the bulk of the financing it needs (in part through Fleming), and that its financial requirements from here on out would not be difficult to secure. “David Fleming will be a very valuable member of the ethics commission, especially since it has been granted greater authority to investigate wrongdoing within the city when it pertains to campaign finance and other wrongdoing,” Close said. “We’ve always raised our own funds and with this (possibly) coming on the ballot next year, I believe it will be easier for Valley VOTE to get widespread support as needed.” Close went on to say the bulk of the funds for a secession drive will be raised by the candidates who run for offices in the new Valley city and a soon-to-be-created political committee that will act independently of Valley VOTE. Not only will Fleming have to sever financial ties to the secession movement, he said he must also abstain from deliberating on issues before the commission pertaining to Valley VOTE and LAFCO. The Ethics Commission is now reviewing a request by City Councilman Hal Bernson, a long-time LAFCO board member and Valley resident, to investigate whether Council President Alex Padilla broke the law last month when he stripped Bernson of his voting powers on LAFCO by making him an alternate and replacing him with secession foe Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski. Fleming and Close stood alongside Bernson during his formal press conference announcing his push for a formal inquiry into the matter. “I have already recused myself with regard to Hal’s request because I was present with him when he held his news conference,” Fleming said. It is the City Ethics Commission that has long tried to force LAFCO to push Valley VOTE to reveal its financial contributors. Until recently, LAFCO said its hands were tied under state Fair Political Practices Committee law. But in January a revision to the Cortese-Knox Act, the 1985 law that established new guidelines for LAFCOs across the state, went into effect. Authored by Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, the amendment essentially closed a loophole that had been keeping LAFCO from responding to the commission’s request. Consequently, LAFCO established a sub-committee to look into the matter. But LAFCO Executive Director Larry J. Calemine said Aug. 30 that the subcommittee concluded Valley VOTE is not bound by state laws and that LAFCO would not push the matter further. He did say LAFCO agreed to expand its application procedures by asking groups like Valley VOTE to tell the panel if they hire a lobbyist. “This commission didn’t want to change (reporting policies) in any way and felt it would be unfair to apply to people or groups seeking special reorganization,” said Calemine. Fleming said he would also have to remove himself from any commission action relating to the LAFCO/Valley VOTE financial reporting issue. Despite the links between Fleming, LAFCO and Valley VOTE, Pelham downplayed any suggestion of a possible conflict of interest. “I think we are looking forward to Mr. Fleming’s experience in the city and the benefits we will get from his having served for as long as he has,” said Pelham. Pelham said the commission has yet to see anything in writing from LAFCO about its subcommittee’s decision relating to Valley VOTE. Although LAFCO isn’t required to report back to her panel, she said she would ask Calemine to make the decision public. “Our view is that whenever the voters are being asked to act on something that could lead to a ballot issue, the public ought to be given the full picture of whatever influences are going to help a reorganization effort,” she said. Close, also a LAFCO alternate, said Fleming’s inability to take part in Bernson’s request posed little threat to LAFCO or Valley VOTE. “There are many other issues besides cityhood the ethics commission will be involved in that will translate into making the government more responsible,” Close said. Ben Austin, special assistant to Delgadillo, said his boss looked into every possible conflict of interest before appointing Fleming. “Is it a conflict? Absolutely not,” said Austin. “Mr. Fleming’s ethics are unimpeachable.”

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