NEIGHBORHOOD SUPPRESSION-At a recent hearing of a Neighborhood Council Election Challenge Review Panel, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) and the Skid Row Formation Committee testified before the Panel regarding three challenges on the Skid Row Neighborhood Council subdivision election. A special shout-out to General Jeff and his committee for their hard work in organizing an under-represented group of stakeholders in Skid Row. DONE and the DLANC were allowed 10 minutes each to speak against the challenges; the Skid Row Formation Committee, who filed the challenges, was allowed 10 minutes.
What’s wrong with this picture? Why is DONE allowed to even speak and put its finger on the scale? In spite of the unequal treatment, the Panel ruled for Skid Row on all three challenges, recommending the approval of a Skid Row Neighborhood Council or a new election. Subsequently, DONE, in a shocking but predictable ruling, tossed out the Panel’s recommendations stating “there was no factual basis to determine that…[they] would have made a difference in the final election results.” Say what? So the Panel’s conclusions mean nothing?
How is this possible, you ask? Answer: a flawed City ordinance. Ordinance No.183487, approved on March 20, 2015, established a process for resolving grievances by independent Regional Grievance Panels. Although this ordinance is not specific to election challenges, it has been used by DONE for the 2016 Neighborhood Council elections and this subdivision’s challenges.
Unfortunately, the Ordinance language affords DONE the right to ignore the Panel’s conclusions and recommendations. In other words, a clear message to neighborhood council volunteers for the Regional Panels: don’t waste your time!
If the purpose of the ordinance was to give total control to DONE, why even bother with the Regional Grievance Panels? Unless the ordinance is amended, this process is insulting to Neighborhood Councils and their ability to self-govern. Where are the checks and balances? And please don’t say BONC because all Commissioners are the Mayor’s appointees. And who does the General Manager of DONE report to? If you guessed the Mayor, you’d be right. So in essence, the Mayor wields as much, if not more, control over Neighborhood Councils as the City Council. It’s hard to believe that this is what the Charter intended.
If you are keeping score: (DONE 3 - NCs 0)
- DONE decides which challenges to accept. (DONE 1 - NCs 0)
- DONE testifies at the Panel hearing. (DONE 1 - NCs 0)
- DONE is the final arbiter and can overrule the recommendations of the Panel. (DONE 1 - NCs 0)
Here’s more insult to injury: Council File No. 17-0600-S20 continues the online voting system fiasco. The 2017-18 Budget includes funding for Neighborhood Council online voting and instructs the City Clerk to report on the online voting system and how it compares to other cities, including a discussion of best practices. They will have to look outside of the State of California as online voting for government elections is illegal in California.
Attention Neighborhood Councils: the Los Angeles City Council does not consider you part of the government. ARE YOU INSULTED YET?
And the beat goes on. Council File No. 17-0600-S82, although identified as an adopted Budget recommendation, it has nothing to do with the Budget. It recommends the postponement of the Neighborhood Council elections from 2018 to 2019 and to hold them in odd numbered years thereafter. When stakeholders went to the polls in 2016 to elect their Neighborhood Council members it was, in most cases, for two year terms. To change the rules after the fact is unfair.
Since the issue is with the City Clerk starting in 2020, Neighborhood Councils could still hold their elections in 2018 for a one-time only three year term. This achieves the desired result of Neighborhood Council elections in odd numbered years commencing in 2021.
Are they kidding? Council File No. 17-0600-S83 requests “…recommendations consistent with those requested by Motion (Krekorian-Huizar) Council File No. 15-1022-S2, including the budgetary impacts of the proposed Neighborhood Council online voting platform.” This does not come close to fulfilling the requirements of the Motion. Until there is an accounting of the costs associated with the 2016 election, no additional funds should be allocated for online voting. Online voting is still suspended by the Los Angeles City Council for Neighborhood Council elections. Or is the outcome preordained from on high?
The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is about empowerment, not suppression. It has become the Department of NO Empowerment.
(Lisa Sarkin and Judy Price are community activists in Studio City and Valley Glen respectively.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
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