EASTSIDER-Lest you think that only Highland Park Neighborhood Council and Glassell Park Neighborhood Council have “interesting issues” courtesy of what is DONE, let us broaden our inquiry into the weeds of what is actually required by BONC, DONE, and how it works.
Remember, there will be a test -- unlike what’s required to become a member of the LA City Council.
First, let’s start with the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, which allegedly “oversees” the Neighborhood Council system. Right on their spiffy website we find their raison d’être:
“The Commission ensures that the City Charter and the Neighborhood Council Plan are realized by setting policies with the aim of making Neighborhood Councils diverse, inclusive, and representative of all community stakeholders. The Commission believes strongly that the individuality of Neighborhood Councils should function as a catalyst for change in addressing the needs of their communities. By increasing access to City government and City services through the network of local Neighborhood Councils, the Commission strives to increase quality of life for everyone living in Los Angeles.”
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Regarding Bylaws, recognizing the mission of the Commission, there is only a requirement to provide a uniform Table of Contents. That’s right, nothing about what’s inside. You can find this wonderful template here.
Their commentary talks about:
The Commission hereby adopts and approves the "Bylaw Table of Contents" attached as Appendix "1" to this Resolution. The Bylaw Table of Contents shall be included and incorporated into the bylaws for each Neighborhood Council. Neighborhood Councils shall be required to amend their bylaws to conform to the order listed in the Bylaw Table of Contents.
As someone said once, ‘That’s All, Folks!” All the policy consists of is a Template with something like 14 Headers. Since that’s all the policy says, each Neighborhood Council is free to fill in the blanks as they see fit.
Let’s see how this works in the real world. Once elected, DONE has a pre-voting requirement that the Board members must comply with in order to vote on certain matters. It reads:
“Neighborhood Council (NC) Board Members, both elected and appointed, are required to do three trainings in order to vote on issues that come before the council: Ethics, Funding, and Code-of-Conduct Training.”
Note that the requirement does not say anything about having to complete the three trainings to vote on anything else. Right? Plain language? Yup.
So recently, in Lincoln Heights, the question came up about Board member eligibility to vote to ensure that there was a quorum present. During that event, the designated replacement for Mario Hernandez, one Jackie Kim, pontificated that Board members who had not completed the three trainings could not vote to call a quorum.
Her pitch was that they would have to abstain, and that meant a “No” vote and hence no quorum. Ph.D. level stuff. Unfortunately, there were a couple of reality checks that were missing, no doubt due to the incompetence of DONE’s training of their own staff. At least I hope that’s all it was.
However, according to the website The Law of Order, which is a resource on Parliamentary Procedure & the Law, we find the following observation:
“Myth 3: A Group Can’t Do Anything without a Quorum
No quorum doesn’t have to mean no progress. But according to Robert’s Rules, without a quorum, a group cannot take any substantive action or give notice, even with a unanimous vote of those who are still there. But here are some of the things a group can do even sans quorum:
Call the Meeting to Order – Calling the meeting to order, even without a quorum, says, “We did have a meeting. We complied with our bylaws requiring that we meet X times per year.” This helps you stay off the hook from accusations that you failed to meet.
Discuss Topics Informally – Use the time to talk through relevant issues and questions. Even without an official motion, you can build consensus and gain clarity that will save time when those topics are presented for a vote.
Continue the Meeting – If business must be done before the next regularly scheduled business meeting, simply move to continue the current meeting to a specific date and time in the future. The continued meeting is just that – an extension of the current meeting. It isn’t a separate, special meeting that requires notice. But it’ll give you a chance to re-group at a later date and get enough people in the room again to finish what you started.”
Well, golly gee, I wonder if DONE shared this tidbit with their staff.
Not only that, the Bylaws that are on the LHNC website seem to be clear as well, particularly on the issue of a quorum. Remember, in Lincoln Heights the threshold for a quorum is 14 Board members, which makes it hard to obtain in the real world, particularly in these Zoom days.
Moving on, the same section states: Student members of the Board, under the age of 18, are ineligible to vote on NC expenditures, financial reports and/or annual budgets, but may participate in the board discussion of these items and shall be counted as part of quorum.
I may be a little slow, but if Student members who can’t vote on money, financial reports, or budgets, can automatically be counted for a quorum, you would think that any other Board member, whether or not they had completed the trainings, gets counted for purposes of a quorum. Right?
Evidently at least one DONE staff member says “No,” precipitating the inability of the Council to meet. Her name is Jackie Kim, and while she may not know what she’s doing, she is an improvement over Mario Hernandez, whom I have written about elsewhere.
The other problem Jackie has is the specific language on the NC Bylaws which I found online:
Section 3 Official Actions
The Board may take Official Action if there is a Quorum present and a simple majority vote by the board members present, including abstentions, which will act as a YES vote. There shall be no proxy voting.
Seems unnecessary to me, but there it is and if a Board member has not done the trainings, he or she can certainly Abstain and therefore count as a yes vote for the purpose of obtaining a quorum.
Feel your head spinning yet?
The real point here is that you should take anything a DONE representative says to a Neighborhood Council with a serious grain of salt. There is no guarantee that they themselves are trained or know what they are doing. The reality is that people apply for these jobs because they need health insurance and a pension plan. Once hired, one could argue that they spend a bunch of time trying to get out of DONE and into another gig with the City.
Oh Yes, There’s A Grievance, Too
Since they have a policy for everything except their mandate to support the Neighborhood Councils, DONE has their own grievance policy. You can find it here.
I’ll try to keep this short and not bore you, but it is eight small-print pages long and was clearly written by a policy wonk who has no practical knowledge. I’ve negotiated thousands of grievance procedures over a long career and can assure you that this effort is a Rube Goldberg machine.
Rather than a real grievance procedure, this one is in fact an appeals process into a rigged system -- DONE and BONC.
Anyhow, the substance of Mr. Larson’s grievance was:
“In early June had to do with the Executive Committee allowing a member to launch into a Public Comment period, claim that it was a Motion, and then proceed to defame a sitting member. That's the definition of a Point of Order. But they allowed it and on May 21st, they proceeded to take a vote. It's a Brown Act violation to falsely introduce a motion since it was never on the Agenda, and then also to create a Motion that is a personal attack.”
The grievance was filed in early June, was reviewed by the Department, and they came back with this answer, after mistaking the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council for the Silverlake Neighborhood Council:
“In your grievance, you stated that a bylaw violation occurred, however, you did not specify the particular provisions that you say were violated. You mentioned Standing Rule 13, Section 13, but that does not reference the LHNC Bylaws, nor does it state the specific article, or provision. This is required by Administrative Code section 22.18, (c)(4)(i), and (ii) and the form. This information is required to help inform the Department’s response. Please provide clarification of the alleged violation.
Please resubmit your grievance and indicate the specific provisions that were violated. Failure to indicate the nature of your alleged Grievance will result in the dismissal of your Grievance.”
In other words, a useless bit of semantic hair-splitting that has absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of a grievance procedure -- to resolve disputes. Right on, DONE.
As I wrote last year:
“Under the Charter and the Plan, NCs were designed to be a lean, mean group of people with minimal City interference, whose major function was to hold the City Council and Mayor’s feet to the fire, serving as unpaid watchdogs against a one dollar one vote political system which had become largely corrupted.
Instead, in 2019, NCs are subservient entities to a rat’s nest of three authoritarian entities: DONE, BONC, and yea, even the City Clerk, none of whom are elected, and none of whom provide meaningful support to the Neighborhood Council System. What the hell happened, and why won’t our elected officials fix it? ”
In 2020, it’s even worse. The Mayor is hell bent on beating it out of LA to Washington D.C. before (a) someone rats him out, or (b) he’s termed out, and the truth is, the Neighborhood Councils cannot fulfill their function in a COVID-19 environment.
You cannot run a 26 Board member Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council meeting on Zoom, even if DONE got its act together and took care of the tech part. DONE and BONC are doing nothing but a PR campaign to try and justify their existence, and it ain’t pretty.
We don’t need BONC’s policies on civility and removing NC Council members. The troops are dropping out all by themselves because the system is a fraud.
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.