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L.A. City Councilman Stepping Down Ten Months Before Term Ends To Become A Lobbyist

Councilman Felipe Fuentes. (Photo courtesy of Fuentes 4 LA)
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Los Angeles City Councilman Felipe Fuentes announced Sunday that he will resign from his post nearly ten months early to become a lobbyist. Fuentes, who was elected in 2013 and represents the northeast Valley, had previously announced that he wouldn't be seeking reelection in January.

Councilman Fuentes will officially step down on Sept. 11 to become a lobbyist with the Sacramento-based Apex Group, according to the L.A. Times, who report that the soon-to-be-former councilman will serve as a paid advocate for the Associated General Contractors of California. Fuentes' decision to jump ship will likely leave his district without representation until next summer, following the planned municipal election in March.

Wait, what? Is that even legal? Apparently, yes. Frank T. Mateljan, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, told LAist that there no city laws that restrict a councilperson from stepping down prior to the end of the member's term, or that expressly prohibit them from becoming a lobbyist directly after leaving office. That said, a councilperson is subject to both city and state revolving-door restrictions, which limit their ability to communicate with the city or counsel others on matters that they worked on while with the city for a set period of time after leaving office, according to Mateljan.

Being an L.A. City Councilman is a notoriously cushy job with a yearly salary $189,041, which is part of what makes Fuentes' decision so confounding. In fact, when Fuentes initially announced his plans not to seek reelection in January after his four-year term ended in June 2017, the Times called his decision "exceedingly rare," quoting a veteran legislative analyst who was unable to find a single other example of an L.A. city lawmaker who voluntarily stepped down after a single term without announcing plans to seek a different elected office. "Going back to the ’50s and ’60s, there’s nobody who did what this guy’s doing," the analyst told the Times. And that was back when Fuentes was still planning to finish his term.

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At least 21 people have already announced their intentions to run for Fuentes' seat representing Council District 7, according to LA Observed. The city could theoretically hold a special election to replace Fuentes and fill the vacancy before March, but City Council President Herb J. Wesson announced Monday that he will leave the seat vacant and put in a caretaker instead, according to a tweet from Times reporter David Zahniser. A spokesperson for Council President Wesson told Zahniser that a caretaker would "protect the taxpayers" by avoiding a costly special election.

Before being elected to the Council, Fuentes had served in the state assembly. Before Sacramento, he had been a deputy for former Mayor James K. Hahn and chief of staff to former Councilman Alex Padilla. The north Valley native received an endorsement from the Times when he ran for City Council in 2013, albeit one filled with caveats:

There are plenty of reasons for voters in this north San Fernando Valley district to sigh in despair as they mark their ballots for Fuentes, a termed-out assemblyman who made some noteworthy mistakes during his tenure in the Legislature. When the best thing one can say about a candidate is that "he's smart enough to be really good one day, if he wants to be," something is amiss.

In his new role as a lobbyist for Associated General Contractors of California, Fuentes will represent the statewide trade group's interests as statewide decisions are made regarding road repair and other public works projects, according to the Times. Political strategist Michael Madrid, a USC Unruh Institute Fellow and local government expert, told LAist that Councilman Fuentes' decision to leave municipal government for a statewide lobbying firm was unusual, but only insofar as there are so few cities that have the policy reach of L.A.

"But in the case of Councilman Fuentes, because he has spent so much time in Sacramento, he not only has the policy expertise, but also a keen understanding of how state and local politics function," Madrid said.

In their backhanded 2013 endorsement, the Times also identified Fuentes "as one of the Sacramento lawmakers most prone to introduce bills sponsored by special interests," which certainly bodes well for his career as a lobbyist.

Note: this story was updated to include information about what Council President Herb J. Wesson will do with the vacant seat.