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Neighborhood Council Budget Day: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

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NEIGHBORHOODS LA-The annual planning conclave for the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (NCBA) was held at City Hall last Saturday.  It was a perfect example of the excellent contributions that the Neighborhood Councils can make through partnering with our City Government.  The formal program under the direction of NCBA Co Chairs, Jay Handel (West LA NC) and Marcello Robinson (Westwood NC) was executed perfectly.

On the other hand the election for NBAC Co- Chairs for the 20014-20015-budget year was almost a food fight.  It could have happened since box lunches were provided.  It showed the worst of NC’s when a disagreement, about who could vote for the co-chairs, arose. 

Let’s start with the positives:  A standing room only audience from throughout the City listened attentively while Mayor Eric Garcetti; City Controller, Ron Galperin; Deputy Mayor, Rick Cole; Inspector General, Fernando Campos; Councilmember Paul Krekorian, Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee; and Ben Ceja, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer talked about what their departments are doing to “restore this City to greatness” and how the NC’s can play an integral part.  Grayce Liu, General Manager, EmpowerLA, thanked the audience for giving up several hours on a Saturday to help the City function better. 

In my initial article last week, I complained about the early hour and quite frankly thought the presentations would be rather dry and boring.  I was wrong!  First of all a bountiful breakfast was served to all (Neighborhood Congress get the name of the caterers) which helped. 

I was blown away by some of the presentations. Dr. Dan Wiseman (West Hills) is one of the original BA’s… in fact he is responsible for the name.  Before it was called the “Mayor’s Budget Advocates”. He suggested the group be called the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates!  He compiled all of the presentations charts into an impressive package.  That was a lot of work! 

Having been at several of the Mayor’s prior speeches he again reiterated the nine points he has set as his objectives for the City. What occurred to me was his frank and positive attitude towards the Neighborhood Councils.  I’ve also seen him put some of his words into actions, and unless he is really “Lucifer” in disguise- I think he is sincere in his desire to make the City of Los Angeles government “accountable” to its constituents. 

Most of the presentations can be found on the various department websites so I won’t try to list them here.  Undoubtedly Controller Ron Galperin’s remarks on the new program called ControlPanelLA and the new web site listing all City expenditures; salaries and benefits for all categories of City Personnel; and a list of vendors was extraordinary. 

 In all the years I have lived in LA, I have never seen this kind of transparency. I urge you to check out the web site.  It is easy to navigate and has more information than you ever wanted. 

The main point of all the presentations was that the City is recovering from a disastrous five years.  For the first time it has more than a 5% budget reserve.  It still has financial problems and instead of being one billion dollars in the hole it is now a paltry $250 million.  Each department must put its objectives for the year on its web site and its effectiveness can be judged by all of us.  

We are not out of the woods but with a renewed emphasis on swifter collection of monies owed (29% of receivables were one year or more), a renewed determination to bring more business to LA; closer scrutiny on all expenditures and a collective vision of what this City should offer its stakeholders- seems to be the standard of this Administration. 

Now the other side of the coin-- After the formal presentations, groups from the NC twelve regions met to elect their two budget advocates and one alternate.  I visited the caucus of all the regions and sat in on some of the dialogue from their individual NC’s.  The differences between the various regions were apparent.  

Whereas, region 11-(West LA) found city services, especially water pressure and problems with DWP to be a priority-region 9 and 10 South LA 1 & 2 was concerned with getting more budget representatives from their various NC’s. I also detected an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, not just with the budget process but also their challenges were not getting enough attention from the powers that be in NC. 

Region 2 under the leadership of newly elected BONC Commissioner Lydia Grant listed their top priorities for their budget advocates to promote. Among them was an increase in funding to $60,000 per year for the individual 95 Neighborhood Councils. I’ll second that! 

Make no mistake the job of a Budget Advocate is not easy.  Next to being in charge of Outreach, it takes the most time and effort:  Two Budget Reps (BR) were elected from each NC.  They in turn joined with their region to elect two BA’s and an alternate. Some of the regions had several people vying to be BA’s- others were hard pressed to get three people to run.  

Thirty-six BA’s were elected from the twelve different regions.  Some of the regions had several people vying to be Budget Advocates- others were hard pressed to get three people to run. 

Two monthly meetings; periodic meetings with officials; monthly reports to the BR in their region so they in turn can disseminate the information to their NC; soliciting input from their BR’s as to NC priorities etc. etc. etc.   I haven’t seen much solicitation of priorities from the individual NC’s.  It is mostly the BR’s reporting from the BA’s.  It is a crucially important committee and has increasing influence in City Hall.  Again, shameless self-promotion- see “ A Seat at the Table”) in the October 24 edition of CityWatch. 

Once the elections for Regional BA’s were finished it was time to elect two Co-Chairs.  It was a tossup between a keystone cop comedy and a Greek tragedy.  First of all getting all those type 'A' personalities with big egos into a small room was a challenge.  The moderator, who spends a great deal of time mentoring NC’s on parliamentary procedure, seemed at a loss. 

The issue was allowing the alternates to vote for BA officers.  Lawyers in the group were arguing their opinions of the by-laws.  Kind of “what is---is”. Voices were raised, accusations thrown out and then there was a whole debate as to whether the bylaws included in the packages- were the new ones or the old ones. 

South LA was originally accorded one ballot when in reality they are two regions and were entitled to four BA’s and two alternates.  It was reminiscent of some monthly Board meetings I have attended. 

Final results: Finally there was an election and previous Co-Chair Jay Handel was re-elected (he has to be part masochist) to the same position and previous BA JoAnne Yvanek-Garb (West Hills NC) is Co Chair.  Other officers include Vice-Chairs:  Travis Kasper, Downtown LA NC and Derek Waleko, Van Nuys NC;  Co-Secretaries:  Linda Lee, Central Hollywood NC; and Sue Reimers, Greater Echo Park Elysian NC; Treasurer:  Greg Wilkinson (Panorama City-) Parliamentarian:  Marcello Robinson (Westwood and former Co-Chair).  Three of the officers are new to the Budget Advocates. 

Why is it that our NC’s have to imitate Congress?  I realize that as volunteers we are passionate about our points of view- with some being more vocal than others.  Quite frankly it diminished some of the good feelings I had about the excellent program. We know people who get elected to positions have to have more than average egos.  

Any ideas on how we can leave those egos at the door?  We have a common purpose- it’s is just the manner in which we express it.   There always seems to be two or more factions on NC Boards.  We are trying to build a spirit of community in our neighborhoods.  Why can’t we have that spirit with each other?  I’m as much at fault as anyone.  I have a tendency to want to bend the rules and get things done (I’m sure you are surprised) others think that the strictest rule interpretation should prevail even if it takes twice as long to accomplish.  

“Why can’t we all get along?” 

Appreciate your comments and suggestions-ideas for future articles.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is Co-Chair of Outreach Committee of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council and a contributor to CityWatch writing about Neighborhood Council life.  Reach her at: [email protected]

-cw

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 11 Issue 87

Pub: Oct 29, 2013

 

 

  

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