The Los Angeles City Council has full-time members (that is, they’re not allowed to hold outside employment), and it has some ethics problems. That has led some to suggest that the council should switch to part-time status.
A part-time council would benefit city governance. In addition to savings, a part-time council would provide access to a more diverse field of professionals. Candidates would not have to leave their private- or public-sector careers to serve. A part-time council would take advantage of talent and experience from outside City Hall — members who create jobs and balance budgets on a regular basis. City Hall could use a daily dose of the real world.
The L.A. council would be transformed — from a full-time body looking to benefit personally from high salaries, huge staffs and perks — into a part-time body drawing upon significant contributions from its members. Building individual political empires would diminish, while voluntary civic service would expand.
Critics argue that there’s not enough time to get things done with a part-time council. But there are numerous examples around the country and county of part-time councils effectively and efficiently governing big and complex cities.
The high salaries, slush funds, bloated staffs and attractive perks all come from the council’s full-time status. Part-time status removes such poisonous elements and incentives for corruption and promotes a volunteer, civic-minded approach to local governance. And that will attract a different type of candidate with a more diverse base of experience.
The takeaway here? Perhaps the employment rules of legislatures are not the determining factor in whether a government is honest or not.
Certainly there is a public interest in keeping legislators out of penury, where they might be tempted to resort to graft. You also want to make public service lucrative enough to attract talented folks.
On that count, both Los Angeles and D.C. are probably doing OK. L.A.’s full-time members make more than $178,000 per year on average, the most of any municipal legislature in the country; D.C.’s part-time members are No. 2, with most members making about $125,000.