03 Dec 2013
- Written by Denyse Selesnick
NEIGHBORHOODS LA-This time of year is usually filled with news of people doing good things … feeding the hungry…collecting toys and gifts for those less fortunate…holiday cheer and all that good will feeling towards our fellow men and women.
Not so at the EmpowerLA office, the agency that oversees the day-to-day operations for the ninety-five Neighborhood Councils (NC’s) in the City of Los Angeles. At its peak, EmpowerLA staffing was at sixty-five people and the NC’s were receiving $50,000 annually. Today staffing is fifteen people and each NC receives $37,000. Three of the six Neighborhood Empowerment Associates (NEA) have filed a grievance with their union accusing the neighborhood council Councils For Councils (C4C) volunteers of trying to diminish their respective jobs. They are asking that the program be curtailed.
Rather than downsize neighborhood council accomplishments because of the budget crisis, NC Volunteers picked up the slack. In the last three years they have worked hard to increase NC’s visibility and improve their communities. They are much more participatory in advising local government and are becoming much stronger proponents for their constituents. In fact, although volunteers (they don’t get paid anything...even gas money). NC Board members are elected by their communities and are responsible to them. Since their budget comes from the taxpayers they are held accountable for every cent.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about some of the successes the C4C program had enjoyed in the last year. This volunteer program was put in place to help NC’s solve their problems in an effective manner. With only six field deputies to cover ninety-five NC’s it was an impossible task for the civil servants to accomplish on their own.
The C4C group developed a 12-point program to work in conjunction with the NEA staff so all duties would be covered. After reviewing the plan, three of the NEA staff filed a grievance with their union, which basically said that the C4C plan would take away their jobs.
In essence the grievance filed by the NEA's didn't want anyone looking at their work –like analyzing how many NC’s in their jurisdiction needed help. As of two weeks ago there were 24 NC's with frozen funds. Most were for failing to file or complete financial documents. EmpowerLA has installed a new system of financial reporting. Like the Affordable Healthcare Act, it has some major problems. Also like AHC they promise to smooth things out along the way.
One of the twelve points was for the C4C to work with those twenty-four NC's immediately to resolve financial problems. It was also suggested that the C4C tag team with the NEA's so that all NC Board meetings are covered AND video taped. Here are a few more of the 12 points that were the most nefarious:
- ● Review all NC's that do not have working web sites and deploy help to create sites.
- ● Get report of all NC's close to being de-certified, to help them fix their issues.
- ● Create new training programs for newly elected Board members.
Can you see how these plans would displace the NEA staff? It is no wonder that the general public finds fault with public employees. They can't do all of the work but don't want anyone else to do it. It is not like the NEA's are underpaid. Thanks to Controller Ron Galperin’s website, one can see the salary level and benefits for each category of City employee.
Starting NEA's receive $84,000 salary plus 30% benefits, and are not permitted to work more than 40 hours in a week. That is why, when they attend your board meeting. you can't reach them till noon the following day. Also, it almost takes an Act of Congress to get anyone fired. Incompetence is not justification for firing...hitting your boss might be.
There are some great people on the EmpowerLA staff who really care about making the NC system work. They are enthusiastic and love their jobs. Then there are others who put in the time, sometimes give the wrong information, or are asked by the NC in their jurisdiction not to return. Guess which ones filed the grievance?
Yes, the buck stops with General Manager Grayce Liu, but she did not pick her staff...they came with the office. She has tried to initiate reforms but change is tough. If one had a pretty easy ride for a few years and all of a sudden has higher work standards and must be accountable- one might be annoyed. On the other hand, the City Employees work for us...the taxpayer. Why should they do less than the hundreds of volunteers who don't get paid?
I asked Grayce Liu for a comment but since the grievance is in the hands of the Mayor's office she is not allowed to comment. If the C4C program is curtailed because of three malcontents, this will not be the end of the story! How it is resolved is of interest to all of us.
I will keep you posted (pun intended).
Vol 11 Issue 97
Pub: Dec 3, 2013