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22
Sun, May

DONE’s Latest Example of Hubris, Empire Building, and Overreach

EASTSIDER - Hat’s off to the Reseda Neighborhood Council for this one. Evidently, having botched the 2021 Neighborhood Council Elections, Raquel Beltran is back trying to grab another million dollars from the City budget for -- 2013 Neighborhood Council Elections! 

Their Council File verbiage is just that, but the real killer comes in a “Supplemental Budget Proposal” for Fiscal Year 2022-2023. So here goes... 

The Council File

The background to this article started with Council File 20-0963, with the interesting heading of “Neighborhood Council Elections/Fiscal Year 2020-21/COVID-19 Pandemic.” How’s that for a bureaucratic caption?  You can find it here.  

So let’s follow the bouncing ball of Council File 20-0963, which purports to be an analysis of the 2021 Neighborhood Council elections.  There are only two substantive documents.  The first is a 5 page fairly straightforward explanation of the very messy Vote-By-Mail election process utilized, and run by, the City Clerk. Notwithstanding an election Manual by DONE which made little sense. And the fact that a good number of the NC’s simply did not have elections at all. 

The second document is a 15 page piece of sophistry written by none other than Raquel Beltran, attempting to whitewash DONE’s incredible mishandling of the whole election process.  If you don’t believe me, here are the links to two Citywatch articles covering the mess. 

The first is from April 2021, and goes into DONE’s blundering. Here is the Takeaway: 

“I know this is a pretty tangled up article. If pieces of this missive don’t logically follow together, you’re right. I started out assuming these elections were just like the normal political elections you and I participate in every four years between Democrats and Republicans. Obviously, I was wrong. And I’m simply sharing my attempts to unravel the 2021 Neighborhood Council Elections as laid out in the handbook. 

Whatever else, I think this “system” is incredibly complicated and vulnerable. 

Just as the “Socialist” Bernie types won all they wanted in the Dems delegate election for AD 51 and because they are smarter than DONE and the City Clerk, I can envision a time when (if they want to) they can capture most of our Neighborhood Councils. This could happen because the Councils have been stripped of their ability to make real charges against the machine. You know, holding LA City politicians accountable to the people. Consequently, after almost 20 years, most stakeholders can’t be bothered to waste their efforts in time-consuming, meaningless gestures. 

They may have hit on something. Imagine a bunch of them taking over Council after Council, with over $30,000 funding in each to play with! Now that could strike fear into the now clearly top-down entity called DONE. Not to mention a few LA City Council members. 

There are few rules for running to be on a Neighborhood Council. And social media in all its forms allows anyone to create any kind of real or phantom group they want with no rules at all. Just imagine the ability to create whatever illusion a small group wants. 

Add in Zoom-only meetings, a stakeholder definition that comes close to making anyone in LA a stakeholder in any Neighborhood Council, and an exclusively vote-by-mail election system. Wow.  

Obviously, I’m using Northeast LA (Region 8) as my example, because that’s where I live; those are the Neighborhood Councils I’m familiar with. They are diverse communities which have been rapidly gentrified over the last 15 years or so and are relatively weak in terms of having any political ability to counter the developer-owned politics of LA City and its elected officials. 

These NCs are perfect breeding grounds for the authoritarian and unaccountable behaviors of the current DONE General Manager, who can establish rules to impose almost anything on them because our City Councilmembers ultimately don’t give a damn. Their vision of DONE doesn’t include any of the normal reporting relationships of all other department heads. 

As I have attempted to demonstrate here, I believe a large portion of our NC elections in Northeast LA are a farce, in the sense that they do not follow any of the norms we are used to in our official political elections. Three in Region 8 will not even have elections. 

I’m sure that in the Valley and other places which have long had strong homeowner associations, their Neighborhood Council elections are more what a normal person would expect. But there may be a fair number of NC’s outside of Northeast LA that have a lot in common with us. 

If this is DONE’s version of a robust Neighborhood Council System, then it’s time to call it quits. If someone crowd sources a Charter Amendment deleting the Charter changes establishing Neighborhood Councils, I have no doubt it would pass.”  

The second in from December 2021, and concentrates on DONE’s mismanagement in the Neighborhood Councils elections, leaving the City Clerk holding the bag.  You can find it here..

“Evidently the brain trust at DONE woke up one day and realized there needed to be Neighborhood Council Elections in 2021. So they did what wannabe bureaucrats the world over always do - they put together a 40ish page Election Handbook guaranteed to be incomprehensible, so no one would notice the fatal flaws. 

For example, at Section 3.13 of this bible where is the wonderful section called “Board Affirmation and Loss of Quorum:

“In the event there are not enough candidates in a NC election for a single NC board seat, that contest will be omitted from the Official Ballot. 

In the event there are not enough candidates in a NC election or if there are no competitive contests (two or more candidates) for all board seats after the List of Certified Candidates has been released, the election for the given NC will be suspended and cancelled. Any candidates that have been certified will be seated by EmpowerLA through the Department’s prescribed Board Affirmation process.” 

And pages more of the same drivel. What they are really admitting to in writing is that DONE has been so busy imposing bylaws and busywork like codes of civility on the poor Neighborhood Councils they cannot field real elections in the 98 Neighborhood Councils because people are turned off. 

So, without admitting their massive incompetence, they have cobbled together a way for DONE to use legerdemain and magic to proudly announce that board seats will be filled by DONE to make the Titanic look like a Princess Cruise liner. 

Germane to the rest of this article, they also announced a true bit of persiflage called “Documentation Guide” for “If you participate in a NC as a Community Interest Stakeholder”.  A fair reading of this bit of nonsense essentially says that as long as someone says they “have involvement”in any “community organization” that has any interest in a Neighborhood Councils, by golly you to can get on the Board! 

As we shall see later, a mostly social media entity, Lincoln Heights Intel” and hoist DONE and the City Clerk by their own petards. 

Oh, did I mention that they decided that NC elections would only be by mail ballot, with a whole other set of rules as to how people could get vetted to get a (gasp) physical ballot? No online balloting allowed. Even though online voting was permitted in the Skid Row Neighborhood Council election by this very same DONE under Grayce Liu.

Finally, this gobbledygook was capped by a “Regional Election Schedule” jointly put out by DONE and a captive City Clerk. Yes sir, 12 Regions with different schedules, and a giveaway note of honesty at the bottom which stated: 

“These NCs will not be taking part in the 2021 NC Elections: Historic Cultural North, Lake Balboa, McArthur Park, West Los Angeles-Sawtelle, and Westwood. 

These Because the Selection process to seat their NC Board members: Chatsworth, Northridge South and Westside”

And this is just a taste of the incomprehensible bullshit DONE foist on an already crumbling Neighborhood Council system.” 

Bureaucratic  Legerdemain

The letterhead of DONE gives away the GM’s attempt to make DONE look like a real City Department.  She does this by creating a letterhead which first lists the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners and their names.  It then goes on to list Raquel Beltran as General Manager.  Innocents looking at this letterhead would see nothing wrong, since this is how real City Departments work 

However, DONE is not a normal Department, and Beltran is neither supervised by, or reports to, the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners.  She is a direct political appointment by the Mayor of Los Angeles, and the City Attorney has previously opined that she is not supervised by BONC.  Only the Mayor can hire, fire or discipline her. 

Yet most people looking at the letterhead will assume that Beltran is the General Manager of the Neighborhood Empowerment Department, and reports to the Commission. 

With this background, let’s take another look at her 2 1/2 page letter, bolstered by 12 pages of cute graphics and cut & paste stuff. The only substance in the document is on page 2 where she says the City Clerk is asking for more money to conduct the 2023 elections, and DONE want’s about a half a million more for itself. 

Even that is misdirection.  Witness the “Supplemental Budget Proposal 2022-2023 Summary”, where  we discover that “the Supplemental Budget Proposal of $4,931,322 represents a 63.6% ($1,916,335) increase from the Department’s Approved FY 2021-2023 Budget.”  Funny how that is not referenced in her letter. 

Meanwhile, In Lincoln Heights NC, DONE Is AWOL

Even as they are trying to hustle a bunch of money from the City, DONE seems to be ignoring their own rules and processes with the LHNC.  Victim to all this is one Richard Larsen, an old school Land Use maven on the Council. 

What happened is that Larsen has been around the NC for years, and plays by the complicated and ever changing rules DONE promulgates.  To his detriment, the majority of that Council are Lincoln Heights Intel folks, and they ignore all the rules because they know DONE is toothless, as I have previously written. 

The Board has evidently disenfranchised Larsen without following any of the due process stuff that DONE used to slavishly follow.  You know, back when they sent their staff out to the Neighborhood Council meetings and told everyone what they could and could not do. 

I guess the combination of eliminating in-person meetings and the lust for Empire have readjusted DONEs interest.  For example, BONC changed their policy on removing a NC Board member, in April of 2020, during the Pandemic.  You can find it here.

I think even BONC realized that this was a significant change, basically washing their hands (and DONE’s) of responsibility for their own rules. Thus the following prelude to the new policy:

Resolution by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners
A UNIFORM POLICY FOR BOARD MEMBER REMOVAL

April 14, 2020

Whereas the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners has conducted a number of Town Hall meetings around the City regarding a proposed removal procedure:

Whereas the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners has been told of many instances where Neighborhood Councils have experienced repeated disruptive conduct by Neighborhood Council board members:

Whereas Neighborhood Councils have often had to rely on City departments to address intra-board dynamics:

Whereas the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners wants Neighborhood Councils to have the tools and authority to act independently within the scope identified in the Charter and Administrative Code:

Whereas Neighborhood Councils have experienced instances where efforts, including Censure, have failed to resolve such situations:

Whereas any process for addressing these situations should be uniform across the entire Neighborhood Council system; and

Whereas the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners desires to institute a policy that includes openness, fair, and consistent guidelines.

NOW THEREFORE, IT IS RESOLVED THAT the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners establishes this policy for the Removal of offending Neighborhood Council Board members:

POLICY NUMBER 2020 - 4”

You can use the link provided to read the full new policy, but it can be summarized easily.  Any NC can dump any of their Board members for any cause - not good and sufficient or just cause.  DONE’s out of the loop, and the BONC “may” (or may not) choose to hear an appeal.  That’s it.

I mention all this because Richard Larsen has been going back and forth with DONE to appeal his sudden disenfranchisement for something like 15 pages of communications to DONE. He’s a long standing board member and very active in all of the Council’s trampling of stakeholder rights as they kowtow to the development industry.

Guess what?  It wasn’t until last week that Beltran finally told him to go away,after leading him a merry chase.  No reference to the new and functionally useless BONC Policy, which she allegedly follows. That now that’s real executive management.

In Richard Larsen’s case, he is a legitimate LHNC Board member, having run sucessfully for a 4 year term as Area 1 Board member in 2019.  He was unaware of the current BONC policy, since in all his back and forth with DONE no one has let him know of its existence, or that they are the legitimate place to appeal.

The Takeaway

There are really two takeaways from this column.  First, whoever did the deep dive data crunching on the Supplemental Budget request is an absolute whiz.

I can do no better than to quote from the CIS that the Reseda Neighborhood Council recently passed and sent to the Council file.  In part it reads...

The Reseda Neighborhood Council has a number of serious concerns regarding the spending patterns and failures of oversight by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment on the 2021 neighborhood council election and their impact on candidate recruitment and voter engagement. The neighborhood councils function as the closest level of government for four million Angelenos. However, leadership failures by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment permeated this election cycle. Given that the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is requesting one million dollars for the upcoming election cycle, we felt it necessary to express our grave concerns regarding their stewardship of the money in the previous election cycle after a careful and thorough examination of public documents.

The Reseda Neighborhood Council requests a full accounting of the money spent and the money remaining from the $456,000 allocated to the Department for the 2021 election. We request a full accounting of how and why vendors were selected; many of whom did not have a track record of election experience or high levels of social media engagement. We request a copy of the vendors’ social media analytics report to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. We request that contractual obligations that were not independently verifiable by this neighborhood council be reviewed for their fulfillment and the outcome be shared with all neighborhood councils and the City Council. We request that the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment please provide the above requested information by February 7, 2022. We request that the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners address this community impact statement at or before their next regularly scheduled meeting on February 1,2022. We request

that the Arts Parks Health Education and Neighborhood Committee reopen this council file and agendize our findings.”

I say, Amen! 

(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.)