But Can They Vote 'Present'?


Why spend your time in boring city council meetings just because you were elected to the city council? The Los Angeles Times reports that members of L.A.'s city council frequently leave the chamber during meetings to conduct business in the back rooms, give interviews, or grab a smoke. Sometimes they are gone for an hour or two. But they still manage to vote, thanks to software that performs that function for them (unless they want to vote no). According to the city attorney's office, the practice is perfectly legal:

The rules of the council state that members must activate their own voting machines and must be within the council chamber to be counted as present. But the city attorney who advises the council said his office has defined the "chamber" to include the back rooms, bathrooms and news conference area, all of which are out of public view.

Yet that opinion does not satisfy residents who take the trouble to attend city council meetings and think city council members should too:

Their physical absence frequently infuriates members of the public who show up to testify only to find themselves addressing one or more empty chairs.

"We go there to talk to the full City Council," said Ziggy Kruse of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council. "If you get eight people in their seats, you're lucky."

The practice shows a "profound lack of respect for the public," said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a group devoted to preserving open government. "It seems to me to say, 'My time is too important right now to spend it actually participating in a meeting where I was elected to represent the public.'"

NEXT: The Pro-Corporate Legacy of Justice John Paul Stevens

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This begs the question of why they need the councilmen in the first place. Why not replace them with the machines altogether?

    1. Yes! Machines with neural net processors–learning computers, if you will.

  2. How does anyone know if they are, in fact, in the designated zone of presentosity? Once they are out of the chamber, they could be anywhere.

  3. Even cheaper – you likely could replace most of them with a sack of crap. Just plop the ol’ ziploc full o’ poo in the chair in lieu of the councilman (or woman), and your city government likely would be just as effective.

    1. Why not replace them with speaker connection to the most powerful land developers in the region? You could run Tampa the exact same way, I’m pretty sure.

      1. That would require too much of a commitment to transparency.

        1. The exact reason WTF’s comment about the (transparent) zip-loc baggies makes perfect sense….

      2. We already run things that way here in Small Town USA. Real estate development, palatial schools for non-existent students…we’ve got eminent domain and levy powers, and we’re not afraid to put them to work for you. You don’t even have to be a real big player to get in with us; we’re flexible and we just like doing stuff.

      3. Add in a seat for LULAC and for the NAACP and you’ve got the Dallas City Council.

      4. Actually you already have that in Los Angeles – the local City Council give large Developers whatever they ask for.

        It may be hard to believe, most of the folks in LA don’t have an attitude and are just hard working class taxpayers (who I guess got tired of voting and gave up).

  4. software that performs that function for them (unless they want to vote no)

    That’s not what I meant when I commanded my henchmen to send in the SlaughterBot!

  5. I would be all in favour of this, with just one small alteration: if they are not present, the software should automatically register their vote as “no”.

    The fewer laws these people pass, the better. The least they can do is actually be in the building when they are made.

    1. Actually the default should be “absent” because that is what they are protecting their voting record.

      By the way, even the German’s get it and picked up the article and had fun with it:…..nt100.html

  6. The practice shows a “profound lack of respect for the public,”[…]

    Considering that the public voted these assholes into office in the first place, i’d say the lack of respect is entirely justified. We are talking about California here.

  7. I think this is truly government of the people. LA is full of self-centered assholes. Who else should represent them?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.