Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is the five member non-partisan governing board of Los Angeles County, California. Members of the board of supervisors are elected by district. The current members as of December 2, 2008 are:

Governance

Until recently, the Chief Executive Officer (currently William T Fujioka) was the appointed individual heading the county but had little power as supervisors retained the right to fire and hire department heads and often directly admonished department heads in public. Based on an ordinance authored by Supervisors Knabe and Yaroslavsky that took effect in April 2007, Fujioka directly oversees departments on behalf of the supervisors, although the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Assessor, District Attorney, Auditor-Controller, and Executive Office of the Board of Supervisors continue to be under the direct purview of the Board of Supervisors. The change was made in response to several candidates either dropping out or declining to accept the position to replace former Chief Executive Officer David Janssen. Antonovich was the lone supervisor to oppose the change, stating that such a move would lead to a more autocratic form of government and disenfranchise the 1.3 million who live in unincorporated areas.[1]

Board meetings

The Board meets every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles. Its weekly meetings are televised on local public television (KLCS Channel 58) and transcripts are published online. Most items are approved on a "consent calendar" without discussion. However, because of the huge implications of some Board decisions, the meetings are regularly attended by speakers and protesters on behalf of many causes. The county is sued frequently by various public interest law firms and organizations on behalf of people who disagree with the Board's decisions.

Meetings can last for hours at a time. At the start of a meeting, after an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, all items that do not have "holds" placed on them by a supervisor or a member of the general public, or are mandatory public hearings, are approved. Following that, presentations of various dignitaries such as directors of local consulates, awards to County employees and the general public, and a pet for adoption are made. The presentations can take over an hour. Then, items that were not approved are called in numerical order unless a supervisor wishes to take items out of order. Because of this, department heads with controversial items stay for the entire meeting to wait until their item is called, which may not be the order on the agenda. Some items are "special orders", where at a set time the item will be called in order to invite guests to make presentations that they could not otherwise wait for.

During the meeting, adjournments are sprinkled throughout as well, and can include anyone the supervisor finds worthy of note. Public comment is very limited, with an individual being able to comment for a total of three minutes for all items one wishes to address during a meeting, and an additional three minutes during general public comment on any topic within the board's jurisdiction. Individuals must submit comment cards before the start of the meeting and wait until their item is called. On popular topics with multiple speakers, comments may be restricted to as little as one minute each, and the board has the discretion to figuratively muzzle anyone who is addressing the board in a disruptive manner.

Background

Los Angeles County follows usual California practice (which is similar to that of almost all other states) in that it did not subdivide into separate counties or increase the number of supervisors as its population soared after 1920. The only county with more than five supervisors is San Francisco, unique in California as it is legally both a city and a county, and no new counties have been formed since 1907 in the state. As a result, the concentration of local administrative power in each county supervisor is high; each one represents more than 2 million people. Moreover, because of the equal representation provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the supervisorial districts often make little geographical sense; in particular, Supervisor District 1 was specifically gerrymandered to be a majority-Latino area, while Supervisor District 2 was designed to have a plurality of African Americans.

A local nickname some use for the Board is "the five little kings."[2] Unseating an incumbent supervisor is extraordinarily difficult, due largely to the prohibitive difficulty of mounting a successful challenge in districts of such enormous geographical and population size. Indeed, no new members had been elected to the Board since Don Knabe took office in 1996, however, that record was broken when Mark Ridley-Thomas joined the board in 2008. Like other elected officials, supervisors enjoy built-in advantages of incumbency. Supervisors routinely waive parking and rental fees for various organizations, provide bus trips and give free tickets to county facilities to constituents, and build projects for the community with the supervisor's name clearly marked. Each supervisor has a budget of $3,400,000 for staff and office expenses, with the remainder going into a "discretionary fund" that can be used for grants to non-profit agencies, without a vote by the other supervisors. "Good-government" advocates have long supported the idea of expanding Board membership to reduce the size of each district, and establishing an elected County Executive as a check and balance on the Board's power, but voters have rejected such proposals every time they have appeared on the ballot. However, Supervisor Molina has supported expansion of the Board (to potentially increase Hispanic representation), and Supervisor Yaroslavsky has supported both Board expansion and the creation of an elected County Executive, much like King County, Washington, who directly supervises county departments.

To curb the powers of the five supervisors, voters passed in March 2002 Measure B by more than 63%, to limit the terms of the supervisors to three consecutive four year terms. If a supervisor fills a vacancy, the unexpired term counts towards the term limit if there are more than two years (half the term) left to serve. The provisions are not retroactive, meaning that Michael Antonovich, currently the longest serving supervisor, could serve until 2016.

Currently, the chair of the Board of Supervisors has the option of calling himself or herself mayor. The title has drawn criticism as it can lead to confusion with the mayor of the city of Los Angeles. However, those who support the use of the title say that the Board of Supervisors acts as "mayors" or chief executives for the millions of people who live in unincorporated areas. Currently, only Antonovich uses the "mayor" title when he is the chair. All other chairs use the title chair, chairman, or chairwoman, depending on their preference.

Members of the Board of Supervisors also sit on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, although that organization is not a County agency.