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Fixing Neighborhood Council Elections Once and for All

NEIGHBORHOODS LA - The question of neighborhood council elections has been a political hot potato, but we now have an opportunity to bring some order out of the chaos. The Neighborhood Council Election Task Force, open to all who wish to participate, will meet on the morning of Saturday, January 28.
The context for our deliberations is critical. The City Council recently handed down a preliminary decision to place control over our elections in the hands of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). The Election Task Force has been working with DONE on election procedures for a year now, and we have made significant progress.

Our goal is to complete a set of resolutions on election procedures to present to the city. We hope to represent the views of neighborhood council participants, that is to say, those of us who will have to live with the system that the city designates. Representatives from DONE and the Mayor's office will attend and participate in Saturday's meeting. Some of the issues we intend to pursue are discussed below.

Later in the morning, we will invite discussion about the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC), including our immediate priorities and the possibility of revamping our organizational structure. We refer to this discussion as LANCC Directions, and we hope to spend a half hour on this now-timely topic.

Back to elections: The critical issue between city government and our neighborhood councils is really fairly simple: Will our elections be designed and run in a collaborative process that involves DONE and neighborhood council representatives, or will we continue in a top-down, imposed process? The immediately preceding elections were run by the office of the City Clerk because the City Council issued an edict to that effect.

The problem for us participants was not that the City Clerk had any problems about handing out and counting ballots. That is, after all, what they do. But the rest of the process that we had become adept at, including advertising our elections, doing outreach to the community, and getting out the vote, were all foreign to the Clerk's office.

The City Council originally agreed that funding for the Clerk's activities would include additional funding for the Clerk to do election outreach and advertising. A short time later, the City Council jerked away the outreach funds, resulting in a set of elections that were, oftentimes, a big secret to the public. The fact that the City Council created this mess seems to have been lost on them.

In addition, a few City Council representatives have found fault with our efforts, including our relatively low voter turnout. We should remind these officials that they generate their own turnout by raising tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interests, flooding our mailboxes with shiny postcards, and accusing each other of being inadequate to the job.

In general, neighborhood council board candidates don't do any of these things because we are not the candidates of special interest money, but instead hope to be the peoples' lobby. We need to advertise our elections to the public at large, but we should not do so by selling our councils to developers and lobbyists.

Therefore, defining our standards and rules for electoral outreach is going to be one of our primary goals.

Another problem that bothered City Council representatives in past years was the nearly inevitable complaining by some folks following each election. Some of it may have been sour grapes, but some of it was surely grounded in reality. We have to design a set of election procedures that make these sorts of complaints a thing of the past.

This is actually easier than it sounds, because a number of neighborhood councils developed workable procedures in the early days of our existence, and we should be OK with pulling out the best ones and inviting DONE to certify them as acceptable.

Finally, we need to develop a system that can investigate and decide on complaints lodged after elections have been completed. There is already a proposal from an earlier task force that can be applied to this question. We will invite discussion and advice on this subject at Saturday's meeting.


Meeting location: Hollywood Constituent Center at 6501 Fountain Ave. (Directions from Sunset and Vine: Go downhill on Vine, turn right on Fountain. There is some parking in the back.) The meeting will last from 9:30 am to 1 pm.

(Bob Gelfand is the newly designated chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and has been the chair of the Bylaws Task Force and the Election Task Force. He can be reached at

Tags: Neighborhood Councils, NCs, Neighborhood Council Elections, LANCC, LA Neighborhood Council Coalition, City Clerk, City Council, Election Taskforce, DONE

Vol 10 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 24, 2012