EASTSIDER-While everyone is focused on the November election, DONE seems to be actively conspiring to deliberately violate the CA Public Records Act, even as they unilaterally change NC Bylaws.
In mid-September, I wrote about my apparently quixotic effort to get DONE to comply with the California Public Records Act -- over how can they unilaterally impose Bylaws on the 99+ Neighborhood Councils:
"BONC and/or DONE have recently unilaterally imposed Bylaws on the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council, and I have been informed by other NC members that they have done the same for them.
I can find no legal authority for this in either the BONC or DONE websites, and I can find nothing at all about Neighborhood Council Bylaws on either site. I am requesting any and all information regarding the process of Neighborhood Councils requesting changes in their bylaws, as well as any and all information regarding either DONE or BONC's authority to unilaterally impose changes."
Please consider this a formal PRA request to the Department.”
It is October 14 as I write this column, and I’m still waiting for a response. Obviously, they either (a) can’t answer the question, or (b) are still trying to find someone who can find any public record and/or legal opinion remotely germane to the request.
If you go back to the source documents leading to the Charter Reform establishing the Neighborhood Council system in Los Angeles, you will find a recurring theme. In Section 900 of the Charter, we find the primary purpose:
”To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs, a citywide system of neighborhood councils, and a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is created. Neighborhood councils shall include representatives of the many diverse interests in communities and shall have an advisory role on issues of concern to the neighborhood.”
And specifically relating to bylaws, we find the criteria embedded in the Charter itself:
“Sec. 906. Certification of Neighborhood Councils.
(a) By-laws. Each neighborhood council seeking official certification or recognition from the City shall submit an organization plan and by-laws to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment showing, at a minimum:
- the method by which their officers are chosen;
- neighborhood council membership will be open to everyone who lives, works or owns property in the area (stakeholders);
- assurances that the members of the neighborhood council will reflect the diverse interests within their area;
- a system through which the neighborhood council will communicate with stakeholders on a regular basis;
(5) a system for financial accountability of its funds; and
(6) guarantees that all meetings will be open and public, and permit, to the extent feasible, every stakeholder to participate in the conduct of business, deliberation and decision-making.”
You will notice that nowhere in the actual Charter is any delegation of these rights to BONC and/or DONE. Period. They simply exist as a review step as a Council determines how they want to conduct business.
The Lincoln Heights NC Waltz
If you look at the current LHNC Bylaws on their website, it simply states that they were adopted in May 2019. It does not, however, say who adopted them, and how they were amended, or by whom.
Recently more questions have been raised, thanks to an anonymous source called “Mr. Thoughtful,” we discovered that “unauthorized LHNC Executive Committee members admitted to holding clandestine meetings with city employees and City Attorney Ruth Kwon,” and that, “They planned to subvert the Council by agreeing to change Bylaws for consideration in the upcoming election.” (Source: Sept/Oct. Lincoln Star)
While I have no personal knowledge of these events, if in fact there is a City Attorney named Ruth Kwon, then I’d sure as hell like to have response to all of my PRA requests regarding BONC’s Special Meeting provisions, and the authority DONE has to unilaterally change Bylaws. Hey Ruth, the PRA Request is #20-6485!
Over in Glassell Park, I have been a volunteer member of the Bylaws Committee for a while, so in anticipation of a meeting I took a look at the current GPNC Bylaws. While I didn’t see a date on them, I believe it was around June 2020.
Anyhow, to the good part. Looking on the GPNC website, I found the “old” bylaws, which were 14 pages and without a date. They were pretty much what I remember from being Chair of the Bylaws Committee “back in the day.” Pretty straight up.
However, attached to the Committee agenda, there is an attachment of “Glassell Park Bylaw Amendments 06302020.” This one is 21 pages long and has a bunch of stuff in there that most definitely doesn’t look like the product of a bylaws committee recommendation to DONE.
First, there are sections that are copy and paste of BONC’s horsepucky censure and removal policies, telling the Board what the Board must do. God save us from BONC -- they are an overreach and should at best be an appendix to the Bylaws. The GPNC I know had nothing to do with any of this.
Second, and more interesting, we find the following at the end of the document:
“ARTICLE XIV — COMPLIANCE
- Code of Civility.
- Board members will abide by the Commission’s Neighborhood Council
Board Member Code of Conduct Policy.
- All Board members, including Alternates, must take ethics and funding training prior to making motions and voting on funding related matters, or they will lose their Board voting rights. Members will participate in all training that is made available and is required by the City within sixty (60) days of being seated after an election; however if Board members want to maintain their rights to vote, they must comply with Ethics and Funding prior to being seated.”
These are BONC’s rules, not the Neighborhood Council’s. And it leaves open what happens if a Board member doesn’t want to take the training. Can they still be thrown off the Board?
Even more ludicrous, now BONC and DONE want the Board members to get involved in food fights with a “Removal” section in the local bylaws.
Any Board member may be removed by the Neighborhood Council (“Neighborhood Council”) for cause, following a good faith determination by the Board that the member has engaged in conduct that is contrary to rules and regulations applicable to the Board or that impedes the orderly business of Board operations. A Board member shall not be subject to removal under this Policy, unless the member has been censured at least once pursuant to the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners’ (“Commission”) Censure Policy. Grounds for removal include, but are not limited to, persistent disruptive conduct at meetings, violations or abuses of the Board’s bylaws or standing rules, violations of the Code of Conduct, acting on behalf of the Board without authorization, and misuse or abuse of the censure or removal processes by acting in bad faith.
What a crock. How about the constitutional freedom of speech that we all enjoy? Except, it appears, for the all-volunteer, unpaid, duly elected Neighborhood Council Board members. What is wrong with these people, who inhabit BONC? Do they have a God complex? Is this the best they can do, even as they undermine the language and purpose of the Charter? Aided and abetted, no doubt by City Attorneys who won’t even put their name to their deeds?
Even Richard Riordan would throw up in the face of this.
Until recently, the way in which Bylaws became adopted was that the NC Bylaws Committee met, made recommendations to the Board, and after the Board approved them (with or without changes), they were forwarded to DONE for final review and approval. That’s the system that worked for almost 20 years.
Of course, until recently, BONC and DONE kinda sorta followed the Charter. Now, evidently, they are unleashed and in the business of trying to hamstring the volunteer Neighborhood Council Board members as they attempt to represent their communities.
Maybe it’s just time to get an initiative going to eliminate the Neighborhood Council experiment from the LA City Charter. I’ll bet it would pass in a New York minute.
(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.