NEIGHBORHOODS LA-Something strange is happening in the current Neighborhood Council (NC) election cycle-stakeholders are actually turning out to vote. Granted, only two out of the twelve regions in LA have voted thus far, but turnout in most cases has doubled.
This certainly isn’t due to “outside” money influencing elections. Election expenses come out of our normal $37,000 annual budget. It does force us to be creative since we are not allowed to accept donations.
Each of LA’s 95 NC’s receive $37,000 of tax payer money annually in which to pay for all activities as well as office space, monitor street services, and as our mandate says “bring local government closer to the community” etc. Record keeping for these monies borders on the ridiculous especially when one considers $40 million dollars has disappeared in the DWP fiasco - but that is material for another article.
The City Clerk and EmpowerLA (the city agency supervising NC’s) are in charge of the election but again because funding is so dismal they depend on volunteers to help run the election. So, last Saturday I volunteered as a poll worker for the Sunland-Tujunga NC (STNC) election. (See photo above.)
This NC is nestled in the foothills of the Northeastern part of the San Fernando Valley. It has also encountered almost a year of savage criticism, cyber bullying and personal attacks against Board members.
I was curious to see how the election would be handled. There were two opposing candidate slates: one was composed of many of the incumbents; the opposition included the publisher of a local community newspaper who had been at the heart of most of the mudslinging as well as a Facebook community group who also indulged in false accusations and scurrilous complaints.
The STNC Board and in particular, the Land Use and Planning Committee, had been very strict on approving or disapproving new developments. There were rumors a developer who wanted to bring a massive project to this rural/small town community was involved in trying to defeat the current Board and was behind the mudslinging campaign.
My colleague on CityWatch, Paul Hatfield wrote an excellent piece in this issue about the disgraceful behavior on the part of opposition. Here is a small part of what he said about the local publisher, David Demulle who was running for President:
“Demulle came on like Putin in Crimea. On the pages of his paper, he accused certain officers of the current board for misappropriation of funds and suggested one was behind a plot benefiting Scientology. He characterized yet another officer as an Orwellian villain, complete with a caricature that exceeded even the standards of bad taste. There were times when his choice of words in these attacks was crude. When there were references to seemingly legitimate issues, his message was usually wrapped in anger.
“The same bitterness flowed over to a Facebook Group devoted to the community. Here again, mixed in were some potential issues worth debating and even some levity, but many of the accusations were unsubstantiated. As a guest, I personally refuted the financial misappropriation comments since I was familiar with the accounting process followed by STNC’s recent treasurers.”
As a poll worker, I planned on having a very exciting day. Eligible voters must live, work or own real property within the Neighborhood Council boundaries. The polls opened at 1:00 p.m. and voters streamed in on almost a constant basis until they closed at 8:00 p.m. It was almost anti-climatic.
There were no contentious fights or accusations of ballot box stuffing.
Some NC’s do not require stakeholders provide documentation to prove they are eligible to vote. All that is required is a signed “self affirmation” which punishable by law if you lie. STNC did require documentation, which slowed things down a little but no one complained.
People were excited about voting. My job was to give out the correct ballot (they had four) and had a chance to chat with the over 750 voting stakeholders. Among the group were two homeless gentlemen who were deemed qualified and about twenty provisional ballots where voters had three days to prove their eligibility. One of those provisional voters returned that same day with adequate proof. He remarked he was pleased that we were being so strict.
There were young people who told me that this was the first time they were voting in any election.
There was a 40ish couple who said it was the first time they had ever voted in any election. There was the elderly lady with a walker who didn’t want to use the handicapped booth. There were policemen and cowboys…sophisticates and bohemians all wanting to have a say so in the direction their community would take.
Midway through the afternoon I received an email asking me about supposed problems and fights taking place at Sunland Tujunga elections. All I saw were an eclectic group of well-behaved people who were proud of their community.
The malcontent slate lost by huge margins. Nice guys don’t necessarily finish last. The Facebook group seems to have quieted down the rhetoric, admitted they lost in a fair election and just maybe they will work to make the community better instead of trying to tear things apart.
With 95 elections there are bound to be some mishaps and challenges. Does an NC newsletter extolling the current Board and being distributed two weeks before an election constitute a conflict since they are using taxpayer money? As we go through this election process it will be interesting to see what other irregularities occur. I plan on volunteering to be a poll worker again.
On a serious note, I am an American by choice. My family emigrated to the U.S. from England when I was a child and my British family refers to me as “The Yank”. I take the responsibility of voting very seriously. My poll worker day was heartwarming. I saw democracy in action and wondered why we get such terrible turnout in most of our elections…especially the local elections. In reality local elections have much more importance on our day-to-day living.
Neighborhood Councils are gaining strength and influence within our city, and it is reflected in the increase in both candidate and voter numbers. I hope that we can use our influence to make our stakeholders realize that their vote is important not just for NC elections but all elections.
As always love to hear your comments even if you don’t agree.
(Denyse Selesnick is 2014 election chair, and Board member for Tarzana Neighborhood Council. She is a contributor to City Watch covering activities, policies and foibles in NC Land. She may be reached at [email protected])
Vol 12 Issue 22
Pub: Mar 14, 2014