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Wed, Oct

Commissioners Create a New Neighborhood Council Firestorm

NC WATCH-Gender differences seem to be headline material in social media, print and with TV talking heads.  The Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (LANCC) also got in on the act at their recent monthly meeting.  

Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC) Karen Mack and Lydia Grant presented a “draft” resolution entitled PROHIBITION AGAINST BULLYING AND HARRASMENT BETWEEN NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL Board MEMBERS.  They didn’t expect the firestorm that erupted.  

They should not have been that surprised since they received similar reaction when it was approved at the last BONC meeting.  At the same time they offered a separate resolution that makes sexual harassment, age discrimination, bullying and other related orders- mandatory training for NC Board members. 

Commissioner Grant pointed out that it was only a draft and that BONC was seeking input from the ninety-five NC’s around the City. She offered to hold community input hearings where there could be genuine dialogue without the time constraints of fully agendarized Alliance meeting.  

Commissioner Mack, who happens to be President of BONC and has rarely attended a LANCC meeting was obviously annoyed and turned the mike over to Grant as quickly as possible.  She also made a quick exit after the presentation. 

What I noticed was, the objections came mainly from the male audience, who stated emphatically they weren’t going to take anymore training.  There were no comments as to whether the verbal abuse and bullying was a real issue. 

Let’s back track for a minute. Last year I wrote an article for CityWatch about adult bullying and verbal abuse and how it was rampant among NC Boards.  To this day I still get comments on that article.  They come not just from Los Angeles but also from other areas of the country that have similar problems with volunteer boards. 

In the latest Sunday LA Times, Columnist Sandy Banks wrote “Vive La difference in words?” about the reaction she had to her column of last week regarding the tirade against women made by the Isla Vista killer.  She said, “Several men took issue with my stance that societal attitudes towards women had a role in shaping the killer.”  She also mentioned that the tone of the readers that disagreed differed dramatically on a gender basis. 

There is a lot of scientific proof that men and women have very different communication styles.  Men are far more confrontational and adversarial whereas women are more conciliatory and try to seek a connection.  

It’s both a cultural and biological difference.  She quoted one linguist, Susan Tannen a Georgetown University Professor who said, “Men use language to seek status and independence, whereas women seek intimacy and connection.  Men state their opinions as facts and women as suggestions.” 

Disclaimer … not all men and women do this but there is enough research to suggest a pattern. The LANCC audience reaction confirmed that pattern.  The majority of “Grievances” filed against Neighborhood Councils are for verbal abuse, bullying, harassment etc.  I will venture a guess that the majority of those issues come from women. 

Now for full disclosure … I have filed a second Grievance against my former Board for verbal abuse, discrimination, breaking the code of civility etc. etc. etc.   The first was for reimbursement of monies I advanced as Election Chair, which were approved by the Board at two different Board meetings. 

The Treasurer chose to ignore the resolutions, did not give the correct information to a new Board and convinced them I should only be reimbursed at 20 cents on the dollar. 

The second Grievance was one I was urged to file because the treatment I received by both the President and Treasurer was abusive AND they made many errors in the course of the evening.   

I’m not going to go into all the details here, it is not the place, BUT it does happen.  You can find the Grievance on the EmpowerLA NC web site. 

I will tell you that the NC President is also a BONC Commissioner and his behavior and circumventing NC policy was mind blowing.  I could have let it go because I am getting reimbursed BUT it is the principle.  People who are the leaders should do the right thing.  They are certainly entitled to their own opinions BUT not their own facts. This has been a pattern of behavior by the same group of men for the last ten years.  

I was also curious to see how a Grievance worked.  I have heard from many of you that the grievances were dismissed and nothing was ever done.  EmpowerLA General Manager tells me that the current Grievance procedure is not very good and she would like to change it for next year.  

As an example, in my Neighborhood Council’s bylaws it says the Grievance is brought before the Board and they determine if it has merit.  Give me a break!  What Board is going to vote in favor of a Grievance brought against them? 

In the proposed Resolution detailing the training etc., it says that three members of a Board can bring a “censure” against a Board member and it needs a majority of the Board to approve.  It also states at a 2/3 majority are needed to remove someone from the Board.  I’m paraphrasing because the entire proposal can be found here but it does give the Department more authority to step in and solve these issues. 

So … how are we going to define verbal abuse?   Is my definition of verbal abuse or bullying different from my colleague at CityWatch- Bob Gelfand’s? He wrote an article in CityWatch last week decrying this assault against NC independence.  

He invoked Motherhood, the American Flag, apple pie … and the new catch all …  the First Amendment. He contends that “Free Speech” gives everyone the right to call out someone as an idiot or an idiotic idea. People should be allowed to say what they want in the manner they want.  Perhaps he has been watching too many sessions of the Houses of Parliament or the KCET Series, Borgen. 

What Mr. Gelfand did not take into consideration, is that we need volunteers, not just in NC’s but also in all “not for profit” organizations.  Why do people volunteer?  Sometimes it is the cause … other times it looks good on the resume … and for some it is a power trip.  Regardless of the reason, the accomplishments of volunteers are incalculable.  

I’m naïve enough to think that each of us wants to make a difference.  Some people have a strange way of showing it. People may have to accept rude and abusive behavior in the work place because they need the pay- check, but they don’t have to accept rude and abusive behavior as a volunteer.  How many good people have been chased away from working on their NC because of bad behavior on the part of either stakeholders or Board members?  I’ll bet it is more than a handful. Human behavior being what it is, can we legislate common courtesy? 

I for one am glad that BONC has attempted to take on this issue.  I am among many who have faulted them for inaction and enjoying the title but not the work.  

Right now they are the ones who can make policy (it doesn’t mean it will be approved by the City Council).) If there are enough Angelenos out there who want to get rid of BONC, change it, get more independence, throw out the rules etc., they can start a petition to get things changed in the City Charter.  It is very easy to sit back and criticize but it takes a willingness to compromise and look at the big picture to actually get things done. 

It will be interesting to see if the gender difference plays out as we tackle this latest challenge to the Neighborhood Councils. Those who wish to discard the Code of Civility will have an uphill climb convincing the majority that is the best way to get things done. The key is … enforcement.  How can the NC’s retain a certain independence from local government; create an atmosphere where their volunteers feel safe and can express their opinions without getting a barrage of insults; and how does it get enforced? 

We may not have much choice.  It has come to the point where either the NC’s create their own plan after discussion and input from a wide variety of opinions or…the City will do it for us. 

This is not the end of the discussion!

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a contributor to CityWatch covering policies, activities and foibles of the Neighborhood Councils.  She is Co-Chair of the Program committee for the LA Neighborhood Congress and a former Officer and Board member of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council. She can be reached at [email protected].) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 47

Pub: June 10, 2014