The Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Los Angeles. File photo

The county Board of Supervisors called today for a sweeping study of its governance procedures, directing its staff to work with a consultant to develop recommendations for improving public participation and bolstering representation of all residents—including by possibly expanding the board beyond its current five members.

Under a motion authored by Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Lindsey Horvath, county staff were directed to hire an outside consulting firm and develop a report over the next 180 days to review the board’s current governance structure and possible changes, such as:

  • An extended process allowing more time for public review of proposed motions that go before the board for a vote, sometimes within days of being published;
  • A procedure for routinely evaluating the county charter, county codes and board “parliamentary processes”;
  • A review of the county’s budgeting process with an eye toward increasing “efficiency, transparency and equitable outcomes”; and
  • A review of possible structural changes to the Board of Supervisors itself, including a potential expansion of its membership “to achieve more equitable representation.”

A separate motion by Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis calling on staff to prepare a report within 90 days on the sole issue of possibly expanding the Board of Supervisors failed to gain enough support. Supervisors Mitchell, Horvath and Kathryn Barger all abstained from voting on that motion, preferring instead to include the matter in the more sweeping motion to review the board’s governing procedures as a whole.

Horvath said the broader motion is “about being the best county government possible,” saying the board has “an enormous responsibility” to govern 10 million residents and manage a $44 billion budget. She said the idea is to ensure the board is enacting “practices that give the public more of a seat at the table.”

The Mitchell-Horvath motion also called for a report on policies that could be implemented to ensure the public will continue to have the ability to speak remotely during board meeting and to allow county committees and commissions to hold “hybrid” meetings. It also calls for a report in 180 days on possible county campaign finance changes, including an analysis of possible campaign contribution limits or the establishment of fully publicly financed elections.

Mitchell and Horvath stressed that the motion also includes the idea of a possible expansion of the board beyond the current five members. The idea of expanding the board has surfaced repeatedly over the years—as far back as 1926—but it has never gained traction. Voters have rejected the idea on eight different occasions.

But Hahn and Solis both advocated strongly Tuesday for a renewed exploration of the idea.

“There was a time that five supervisors made sense,” Hahn said. “When my father (Kenneth Hahn) was elected in 1952, the county’s population was just over 4 million.”

But Hahn noted that each of the five supervisors now represent roughly 2 million people. She said her district includes 32 individual cities, along with unincorporated areas. And the vast sizes of the districts has led to challenges in ensuring proper representation for all ethnic communities, some of which are overwhelmed in districts of 2 million people.

Solis said she has heard strong support from the community for another consideration of the idea.

“In fact, I received 40 letters from different cities and organizations that are supportive of this motion,” Solis said.

Neither Solis nor Hahn offered any suggestion of how many board members might be needed, saying that would be an element of the report requested by the board. But Solis said the goal is “to ultimately ensure our residents are served effectively.”

Hahn acknowledged the repeated rejection of similar efforts by voters, but said she is “hopeful it will be different” this time.

Hahn said she supported the expanded motion calling for a broader review of the board’s governing procedures, noting that it was pared down from a similar proposal that failed to gain majority support earlier this year.