GELFAND'S WORLD-Back in February, while we were trying to get past the peak of Covid-19 infections and deaths, the LA City Council snuck one past us again.
You can find the motion passed by the City Council under council file number 20-0990 which you can click on here. In essence, it adds another mandatory training requirement to neighborhood council service. What that training will actually be is not yet entirely clear, but we do know that it is likely to take up several hours of each board member's time. My estimate is that the net for the citywide system will total to about 10,000 hours. Much of it will be, in my view, wasted.
What is the new mandate about? In brief, the City Council is now demanding that each neighborhood council board member be trained in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. What does this actually mean? It's not entirely clear from the City Council's paperwork cited above. The one thing we can say is that this same phrase has been used to describe required training programs in corporate America as well as in some of its universities. I discovered in passing that my own alma mater requires such training for its undergraduate students.
Here is a webpage that describes what this training is all about if your company hires a company called Traliant. Curiously enough, this description actually makes sense. The concepts of unconscious bias and microaggressions are prevalent in the workplace -- men tend to interrupt women a lot more than vice versa, and whites tend to treat Blacks with subtle condescension going back to long-held beliefs about white control. It's not unreasonable that corporate America should want to train its HR staffs and its managers to avoid such errors. In particular, unconscious bias is something to beware of when you are making hiring decisions and is something that every manager ought to think about in terms of the way employees are treated.
There is one other issue that we might consider in terms of pushing DEI training in the private sector workplace. What we know from the last election cycle is that a substantial fraction of the American public support a political viewpoint that can only be described as defensive of the traditional racist viewpoint. Whether such people accept such training and quietly mock it later among friends, or whether they self-segregate into companies that have nothing but contempt for equality, there is likely to be friction. But in the American system, companies will continue to have the power to impose this training unless some legislative body makes it illegal to do so.
Now, about the neighborhood council system and why it should be treated as fundamentally different from corporate and academic America.
There are multiple reasons why such training should not be imposed on neighborhood council participants, and one line of argument -- fairly unconvincing in my mind -- for why such training might be appropriate in a few isolated cases.
The first reason for ditching this experiment in turning the neighborhood councils into reeducation camps is that they were never intended to be an experiment in social welfare. Quite to the contrary, they represent the people of each district. Think about the fact that each City Council district contains about a quarter of a million people. There is no way that any member of the City Council can know each little neighborhood in his district, much less meet even a majority of his constituents. But he can listen to the various neighborhood councils and from them get a sense of what the bulk of his constituents are concerned about. We know from experience that some neighborhood councils -- and their residents -- are worried about continued height extensions on buildings along the Wilshire corridor, others are concerned about air quality damage created in the Port of Los Angeles, and others are concerned about local crime.
The point here is that the board members of each neighborhood council are, to the most part, representative of their wider constituency and are chosen by their voters for that precise reason. I'm not aware that any of the voters in my district are intent on creating a board of holier-than-thou folks. Indeed, in one recent year it was quite to the contrary, a year in which the voters elected slates intent on driving the homeless from our community. That didn't mean that the City Councilman obeyed them slavishly, and eventually these boards came around to a distinctly more humanitarian point of view, but it was not up to the city government to tell the voters just who they should elect.
So that's another important point: If we are going to have elections using the secret ballot for our board members, what argument is the city going to use for insisting that everyone who gets elected must be subjected to an exercise in changing their minds towards traditionally liberal goals?
One last point, which I offer without any sense of sarcasm: Is there any place in the Los Angeles neighborhood council system for conservatives? How about for Trump-supporting Republicans? I can't say that I understand how they think, but shall the city say that -- if elected -- they have no right to bring their thoughts and positions to our public meetings? Does the city have no confidence in its voters to filter out the bulk of those who go against the community norms? To choose a representative panel who mostly represent their wants and needs? And finally, can the voters elect board members who actually represent views that you and I would think of as pernicious (that Trump really won and will be reinstated in August) but who receive enough votes to be in the winning column?
My view of democracy is that the neighborhood council candidates with the most votes are the ones who are elected, whatever the members of the Arts, Parks, Health, Education, and Neighborhoods Committee may think about that.
Now what about that one exception to this argument?
It's apparently the case that there are a few people who get elected to neighborhood council board seats who become abusive on occasion. At least that is the claim we hear from people who come on our Zoom meetings and talk about how they were treated. Some of these people attribute their mistreatment to their racial or sexual status. Of course they are making these attributions without themselves being mind readers, but sometimes there is a pattern that indicates that the problem is bigotry rather than simply a condition of one board member just being a total jerk.
What's curious about these complaints is that they would be easily fixed if the neighborhood council's presiding chair were simply to call abusive remarks out of order. Roberts' Rules says that ad hominem attacks are always out of order and, in addition, comments which are off topic are also out of order. So there is a simple fix for such problems if only our neighborhood council boards were competent in knowing the rules and confident in demanding that the rules be enforced.
The one exception to this argument is when the presiding chair is the problem. I should repeat that if the board members are sufficiently bothered by chair misconduct, they have tools provided them by their own bylaws and by Roberts' Rules.
But once again, the Arts, Parks, Health, Education, and Neighborhoods Committee took an extreme position and got the City Council (by a vote of 15 - 0) to support them.
Where is our concern as liberals for liberty and freedom of thought? What we are seeing here is a parody of liberalism rather than the real thing.
By the way, there were quite a few comments from individuals and Community Impact Statements from neighborhood council boards. They were, for the most part, in support of the motion and often provided reasons for why the city should impose mandatory training on everyone in order to fix their own local problems. One comment which you can find in the official record came from a transgender person who claims to be misidentified in some way several times a day. That comment remarks that for this reason, all neighborhood council participants must be trained in how to speak to such people.
Addendum: The September congress and whether or not we should participate
In spite of comments and complaints, the neighborhood congress planning group has continued to hold committee meetings on Friday evenings. The most recent offense began at 5:30 PM last Friday. As one observant Jew (who is very active in the neighborhood council system) pointed out, "I don't go to Friday evening meetings." The excuse for holding these meetings was that they couldn't find another day or time because the other days were taken. I guess the idea of meeting on a Sunday was equally unthinkable, but the Jewish Sabbath was OK with them.
One response from a ranking planning group member was that if someone comes forward with a real complaint -- i.e.: you have to fulfill all these requirements: (1) be an active member of the group (2) be an observant Jew (3) come forward with your complaint and communicate it directly to the leadership -- then and only then will they try to come up with some accommodation.
Words fail me. Balderdash. Poppycock. Complete and utter bullshit.
The effect of this policy is to communicate to a large number of people that they don't belong in the congress planning group.
The proposed remedy is ridiculous. We shouldn't have to bring forth a token victim and go through a round of hearings to determine the proper victim status in order to defend religious liberties. The city has plenty of rules prohibiting religious discrimination so we shouldn't have to relitigate this one.
What's really astonishing is that this same group is busy speaking up for the rights of other impacted minority groups at this very moment. The hypocrisy is astonishing and monumental. They really should reconsider their insensitivity and change their policy.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)