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L.A. City Council approves new ethics commissioner after rejecting previous nominee

 Alex Johnson
Alex Johnson, shown in 2019, was confirmed by the City Council as the new Los Angeles ethics commissioner Wednesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a nominee for a spot on the Ethics Commission after several weeks of intense public scrutiny over the council’s handling of nominees for the city panel.

The council voted 10 to 2 to approve Alex Johnson, a vice president at Bryson Gillette, a consulting firm that also has done campaign work. The firm has handled more than $2 million worth of work for various campaigns since May 2020, according to city records.

In remarks before the vote, Johnson appeared to touch on public distrust of City Hall, which has been rocked by a series of recent corruption scandals.

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“I do not take this nomination lightly,” Johnson said. “I fully recognize the inflection point that we are in, the gravity of this moment, and the unique and critical role that the Ethics Commission plays in ensuring accountability, transparency and trust in government.”

City Controller Kenneth Mejia’s nominee to the City Ethics Commission was rejected. Will the City Council approve Alex Johnson, nominated by Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson?

Sept. 16, 2023

The city commission proposes policy and issues penalties for campaign finance violations, among other duties. The five-person panel, whose members are nominated by city officials, hasn’t been able to meet because it lacks enough commissioners.

Johnson’s nomination, put forward by Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, was closely tracked at City Hall after the council last month torpedoed City Controller Kenneth Mejia‘s nomination to the commission.

The council voted to reject Reseda Neighborhood Council member Jamie York but didn’t take any discussion during the vote, prompting a backlash.

Some council members later said they were concerned about York’s fundraising background. Some also said that they didn’t know enough about York and her opinions.

Wednesday’s hearing on Johnson was markedly different from the vote on York, with several council members asking questions of the nominee. Also, Johnson was called up before the council to answer questions.

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Councilmember Imelda Padilla praised Johnson’s background, which includes working at the California Wellness Foundation, Californians for Safety and Justice and Children’s Defense Fund-California.

“So it’s an extensive resume,” Padilla said, adding that she was appreciative that Johnson privately met with council members before the vote.

Councilmember Curren Price, who is fighting criminal charges that he bilked the city out of thousands of dollars in health insurance payments and voted on contracts in which he had a financial interest, also voted for Johnson.

He asked Johnson to reassure those who might have doubts about Johnson’s ability to perform his commission work with “integrity” and “seriousness.”

Councilmembers Tim McOsker and Nithya Raman voted against Johnson’s nomination, with McOsker citing Johnson’s work at the consulting and campaign company.

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“I’m concerned about the perception, the public perception in a role where public perception is probably the greatest concern,” McOsker said.

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Concerns were also raised by some speakers at Wednesday’s meeting about potential conflicts that Johnson may face in his role as a commissioner.

Rob Quan, an organizer with Unrig LA, a City Hall watchdog group, said during Wednesday’s meeting he believes that a commissioner having some level of campaign experience is “really important.”

But he questioned whether Johnson would vote in the interests of the public.

“We have to be realistic. Regardless of whatever kind of firewalls you put up, it’s hard for an employee to knowingly vote against the easily decipherable interests of their employer,” Quan said.

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