December 21, 2012
There are plenty of close calls in the field of ethics — gray areas where a credible argument can be made on either side of a question. City Council President Herb Wesson's choice for a new ethics commissioner is not one of them. Erin Pak has no business sitting on the city's Ethics Commission.
That's not to say that Pak has engaged in any unbecoming conduct or would not do her best to serve faithfully on the panel. She has a record of previous service and is, by all accounts, a public-spirited citizen. The problem is that her husband, Chris Pak, is a prominent political fundraiser who is actively engaged in city politics. Pak has raised money for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and for City Council candidates seeking office in the coming elections. He also represents businesses seeking city approvals.
Los Angeles officials are notoriously sloppy about family connections in politics. County Supervisor Don Knabe, for instance, routinely acts on board matters that affect the clients of his son, lobbyist Matt Knabe. The law permits that offensive behavior because Matt Knabe is an adult and no longer depends on his father for support. That's a bad practice, and the Knabes should cut it out, even if the law doesn't prohibit it. Similarly, former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti sat on the Ethics Commission at a time when his son, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, held office, another blurring of lines that was inappropriate.
This case is worse. As a commissioner, Erin Pak will be asked to enforce rules that directly affect her husband's clients and thus, presumably, his business. Her decisions thus could impact her own household income. That puts her far beyond any reasonable presumption of impartiality.
In an interview with Times reporter David Zahniser, Pak promised to be "as fair as possible" and expressed the hope that her husband would obey all city ethics rules so that he was not brought before the commission. That's one solution. Another would be for her to recuse herself from all matters involving him or his clients. The best solution, however, would be for her to not serve at all.
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