Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu opened up 35 boxes at City Hall Friday filled with records designated for destruction by his predecessor, Tom LaBonge, and invited the public to take a look.
The recovered boxes contained planning and land use paperwork, internal memos, even campaign finance documents, according to Estevan Montemayor, Ryu's director of communications.
Montemayor said the boxes were among 113 marked for the shredder by LaBonge’s staff. Only about a third were recovered; the rest are presumed to have been destroyed.
"When I heard this, I was just stunned because honestly that’s not the Tom LaBonge I knew," said Jim O’Sullivan, a district resident and president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association.
O'Sullivan said he received phone calls last fall from district residents who said their concerns — potholes, tree removal, street light problems, and the like — weren’t being followed up on.
"People had been for the last 3, 4, 5, 6 months sending in complaints to the office and thinking that someone was working on those issues," he said. "It was just all gone."
LaBonge told KPCC that he and his staff were told to clear out of his office and were never told to leave any documents. LaBonge also said Ryu's office did not call him to ask for the records.
"I haven't got a call from anyone asking for any direction or help, and I've seen Mr. Ryu and he never said, 'Hey, whatever happened to this,'" LaBonge said. "I did what I was instructed in leaving the office. No one instructed me to leave anything."
LaBonge denied any wrongdoing related to campaign finance rule violations, saying he never conducted any political activity at City Hall.
"Staff may have had something in their own files," he said. "Maybe they put it in a file, I do not know."
LaBonge represented District 4 from 2001 to 2015 before he was termed out. The district now includes Central Los Angeles, southern San Fernando Valley and areas like Los Feliz and Silver Lake.
The city attorney's office found the boxes sometime last year at Piper Technical Center, where they were all sent to be destroyed, said Montemayor by email.
He said the city attorney was looking for documents related to a Los Feliz land use issue that is in litigation and by chance found the boxes.
Ryu has proposed standardizing transition plans and procedures when officials leave office. He hopes new rules will require departing council members to pass on their official documents to their successors.
Montemayor said it is up to the city's Ethics Commission to determine if any laws have been broken in the handling of the records.
Jessica Levinson, the Ethics Commission president and a Loyola Law School professor, said it's unclear if there were any violations in this particular case. She pointed at the city code that states destruction of original records requires written consent from the city attorney and the approval of the City Council.