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Endorsement: Kenneth Mejia for L.A. city controller

Kenneth Mejia, candidate for L.A. City Controller.
(Courtesy of Kenneth Mejia Campaign)

The race for Los Angeles city controller has drawn a competitive field of City Hall insiders and newcomers. For this job, government outsider Kenneth Mejia is particularly impressive because the 31-year-old certified public accountant and auditor has used his campaign to demonstrate the kind of transparency-and-data-driven controller he would be — and that’s why The Times is endorsing him.

Over the last year and a half, Mejia has filed an array of California Public Records Act requests for city data, including all Los Angeles Police Department traffic stops in 2021, locations where multiple parking tickets have been issued and a list of affordable units in mixed-income housing developments. With the help of a tech-savvy campaign aide, he used the giant data sets to create maps that give Angelenos easy-to-understand, relevant information.

Here are the L.A. Times’ editorial board endorsements for elected offices in Los Angeles city and county, LAUSD, superior court, statewide offices, the state legislature and U.S. House and Senate seats.

Mejia has a CPA’s zeal for numbers and data. He’s dug into the city budget, presenting spending in clear graphs with a tutorial on how the budget is developed and approved. City Controller Ron Galperin, who is termed out and running for state controller, transformed the department’s website into an open data portal showing city payroll and spending, as well as maps and data analysis of city services. Mejia would build on and improve upon Galperin’s work; he understands what people want to know about their government and how to make that information accessible quickly.

The ability to reach Angelenos is essential for the controller because the position has little direct power. The office is responsible for paying the city’s bills and conducting fiscal and performance audits of city departments and programs, but the controller can’t force the mayor, City Council or department heads to make any changes recommended by his or her audits.

Instead the controller has to work cooperatively with city leaders to carry out the office’s agenda or use the bully pulpit to cajole or browbeat leaders into action. There’s an inherent tension in the job. The controller is within city government — and beholden to the mayor and City Council, which approve the office’s budget — but a good controller is willing to challenge the status quo and strive for a more efficient, transparent and just government.

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And because he’s not part of the established power structure, we think Mejia is most likely to have the political courage to call out other city elected officials. He understands the challenges of the job, and the need to rally those inside and outside City Hall for change. He’s active in progressive causes and tenants’ rights groups, but he’s also clear that the role of the controller is to provide financial transparency without regard to politics or ideology.

Mejia is our pick for controller, but longtime city budget analyst and financial officer Stephanie Clements also stood out for her experience and ideas. She’s worked in six different city departments over 25 years; she understands why the city struggles to deliver services — outdated technology, bloated labor contracts and misplaced political priorities — and she has smart proposals to address longstanding problems.

Westside City Councilmember Paul Koretz is probably the best-known candidate in this race, with a long list of endorsements from politicians and labor unions. Termed out after 12 years on the City Council, Koretz cites his experience on the budget and audit committees and says he has a “personal hobby” of finding efficiencies in city government to save money. But Koretz does not have a record as a fiscal watchdog or a reformer. He’s been a rubber stamp on budget-busting labor contracts and done little to address the structural deficit, which makes it harder to fund longer-term investments such as modernizing aging facilities and replacing ancient computer systems to make city operations more efficient.

It’s time for an outsider and a newcomer to put fresh eyes on City Hall, and Mejia has already shown what he can do.

Read more endorsements at: latimes.com/endorsements.


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