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NC Reform: Krekorian Listened to Right Problems … Came Up with Wrong Solutions

CONSIDER THIS - For nearly a year, neighborhood council volunteers have offered their opinions to Councilman Paul Krekorian, chair of the City Council’s Education and Neighborhoods Committee. Town halls, surveys, and countless meetings have focused on the future of the 95 councils, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, and Board of Neighborhood Commissioners.
As a result, Krekorian introduced four motions intended to “reform” the neighborhood council system. The motions deal with training board members, fixing the broken financial system, setting up a regional governance structure, and creating a citywide grievance process.

So far, the reaction of NC board members is mostly negative. Given the long history of city hall’s response to neighborhood councils—controlling what they can and ignoring what they can’t—it’s no surprise. Taken as a whole, these proposals suggest that the problem is not politicians and bureaucrats. It’s all those untrained and unregulated neighborhood council volunteers.

One motion identifies the need to educate board members in ethics and legal issues, workplace violence and sexual harassment, the funding program, city government basics, parliamentary process, and community leadership.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but teaching 1,800 or so NC board members is not going to be cheap or easy. There has never been an adequate training program and rather than focusing on funding and staffing to do the job, this motion asks DONE to determine which of these courses should be mandatory and how individuals should be punished for not doing their homework.

Another motion is full of specific instructions regarding the way in which councils pay their bills and account for spending. Much of what’s in this motion, like the requirement that NCs use DONE’s budget template, is already in force. There are some good things here, but the onus will be on DONE to do a better job. Given the department’s track record and fiscal reality, one wonders how much improvement can occur.

The real problem with the neighborhood council payment and accounting system is the unwillingness of the mayor, city attorney, controller, and city council to trust board members enough to establish a streamlined financial system that provides for prompt payment to vendors, transparent accounting, and thorough and timely audits. Apparently, the city hall perspective is that every NC volunteer is a potential thief and the solution is to tie them all up with red tape.

Even the motion proposing a regional governance structure as a way to provide more autonomy for neighborhood councils contemplates “oversight” by DONE. Presumably, oversight means authority to approve, veto, overrule, and direct the work of these “autonomous” entities.

Regional NC alliances, as well as the citywide Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition, already exist. They’ve done a lot to bring councils together to discuss issues, take positions, and fight for their communities. Do we need a bureaucratic structure interposed between neighborhood councils and the rest of the city?

Finally, there is our old favorite—the grievance process. Over the last decade, there have probably been half a dozen propositions for a citywide system to handle complaints about neighborhood councils. None has been adopted. Maybe there isn’t really a need. Maybe it’s too tough to ask NC volunteers to judge their colleagues. Maybe we don’t want to encourage the kooks who always have a gripe about something.

As flawed as these motions are, I believe they provide an opening for a broader dialogue about the future of the neighborhood council system. Instead of this endless piecemeal approach, let’s go back to square one. Let’s take a look at the ordinance that governs the neighborhood council system and have a discussion about what should be kept, what should be discarded, and what should be changed. Adopting Krekorian’s motions would just pile more on an already shaky foundation. This is not how you build a strong structure.

I appreciate what Councilman Krekorian has done. He has worked harder than any of his predecessors, He listened to what we had to say. But, these motions are too typical of what comes out of city hall.

The bylaws task force and elections task force have shown that grassroots efforts by neighborhood council volunteers can offer processes and solutions that work for communities throughout LA. We can determine our own fates. We have identified the problems. It’s time to create our own solutions.

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council and is a contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . )     -cw

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CityWatch
Vol 9 Issue 54
Pub: July 8, 2011

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