LOS ANGELES — Campaign-related records were among documents that former Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office intended for destruction, but were later recovered by the City Attorney’s Office.
The current councilman for the district, David Ryu, made the 35 boxes available to the media and public Feb. 5 in a conference room near Ryu’s Fourth Council District office.
The boxes contain documents about planning, sister cities and discretionary funds and other miscellaneous topics — as well as one box of LaBonge stationary — and were among 113 that LaBonge’s staff sent to be destroyed before the former councilman left office last June 30.
The 35 boxes were the only ones recovered when the City Attorney’s Office, which needed to locate some files having to do with a planning and land use case, tracked them down at Piper Technical Center, where they had been sent to be destroyed, Ryu aide Estevan Montemayor said.
The boxes contain documents that appear to date back as far as 2003 and as recent as 2015, Montemayor said.
The files will be kept by the Fourth District offices for another few weeks, or until interest in them has died down, then sent to be archived for two years, according to Montemayor.
Several documents that appeared to be campaign-related were found among the files, including a short stack of papers titled “LaBonge No Money So Far” that lists several groups, companies and individuals next to columns labeled “Re-elect07” and “Officeholder06.”
Some of the “companies” listed on the documents include League of Conservation Voters, L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. City & County Employee Unions and the L.A. Taxi Cooperative.
A note stuck to the documents read, “Jeanne / let’s talk at lunch — [illegible] Tom.”
Jeanne Min, who was part of LaBonge’s staff until 2013, said she does not “recall receiving those files,” when shown a picture of the first page of the document.
Min added that she couldn’t “speculate on the reasoning behind the decision to dispose of those files,” because she was not around when they were being thrown out.
Another scrap of paper, also stuck with a note signed by “Tom” reads: “JH Snyder usually does $2,000-nothing yet / Gary Shafner pledged $1,000-nothing yet / Rich Caruso may need a personal call. I sent Matt / Middlebrook a note when I returned Rick’s $2,000 check. / He has given $500 personally but that is all.”
Council staff are not allowed to engage in campaign activity during city work hours. Montemayor said that such files should not be brought into City Council offices, and that Ryu’s office would not allow such campaign records at City Hall.
LaBonge said he does not know who those files belonged to nor who brought the documents into his office.
“I did not campaign from my office,” he said.
LaBonge said he sent the documents to be destroyed because he was “told to clear out my office.”
“I was given no instructions or asked to save anything,” he said, adding there were no “checklists” or guidelines for what should be kept or thrown away.
LaBonge added that the boxes were initially sent to the City Hall basement, then delivered to Piper Technical Center, where they would be processed for destruction. The shredding work is done by an outside company.
The only thing he submitted to the city archives were a map of Los Angeles from 1888, and “some other materials, old reports.”
LaBonge also brought home files from his own office, such as “personal notes” and “over a thousand books collected over 40 years,” he said. Those which were separate from the general office files included in the 113 boxes flagged to be destroyed, he said.
LaBonge also questioned why Ryu’s office did not inquire earlier with him about the lack of files, especially with several “experienced people” on staff, including some who were part of his own staff.
Even if he did not respond, the city clerk would have been able to tell Ryu’s staff about the 113 boxes.
LaBonge said that when he visited City Hall last July, the boxes were still in the building’s basement, and he believes they “sat for months in Piper Tech’s record retention area.”
“I already wonder if the new administration … didn’t inquire further, or no one called me,” he said.
Montemayor disputes LaBonge’s account, saying the majority of the boxes were most likely destroyed by July 2015, which was when the City Attorney’s Office recovered the 35 remaining boxes from Piper Technical Center.
Montemayor also said Ryu’s office did ask the City Clerk’s Office about the boxes “and they didn’t have any information on the location of the boxes.”
Ryu also did reach out to LaBonge prior to assuming office, and “they didn’t connect,” he said.
The discovery of the files has prompted Ryu to question the lack of a protocol for maintaining files during a transition from one elected officeholder to the next.
Ryu introduced a motion in December calling for the city to look into options for setting up a process for City Council office transition protocol, which Montemayor said might include clearer guidelines for records retention.
San Diego and Santa Barbara are among city with stricter file destruction protocols, Montemayor said.