Sat, Jun

Monthly Drug Tests for Neighborhood Council Members


MAKING POINTS-The advent of monthly drug testing of neighborhood council board members was passed by the Los Angeles City Council on a 12-2 vote on April 31, 2014. To many long time activists and participants, this was a slap in the face, but not really a surprise. After all, mandatory training about sexual harassment became the law early in 2014. Sometimes slippery slopes are, indeed, slippery slopes, and nothing is more slippery than an elected official being invited to vote against sin.


The origins of the current debacle lay in the fractious North Hills West Neighborhood Council, which has made itself famous for the propensity of one faction to carry out walkouts in the attempt to destroy the council. An earlier walkout resulted in the governing board being reduced to less than a working quorum. That this was preplanned, and designed to destroy the neighborhood council, was made clear by those involved. In fact, emails and letters went out afterwards, asking the city to decertify the NHWNC. That word "decertify" is government-speak for the act of killing off a neighborhood council. 

Back then, the fact that the NHWNC rebel alliance didn't quite understand the city rules didn't stop them from carrying out the walkout. The city almost immediately ran a special election which brought in new board members and got the council up and running again. 

This seems to have caused the rebels a great deal of anger. Those of us who were even distantly involved got angry emails complaining about the fact that one largely minority group was allowed to vote in the special election. The fact that this group consisted of men who were legally resident in the district satisfied the city's requirements for voter eligibility in a neighborhood council election, but apparently skin color was considered a legitimate reason to discriminate against them by some of the rebels. It's a tribute to the progress we have made since 1964 that such discriminatory attitudes were not allowed to prevail. The city rightly ignored those complaints. 

More recently, a governing board faction at NHWNC carried out another walkout. This time, the rebels tried to seize the moral high ground by asserting that their opponents were guilty of various thought crimes including sexism, and had carried out age discrimination. We need to understand that there is a difference between sexual harassment -- a clear and unfortunately far too chronic problem in the workplace -- and personal attitudes. 

I don't personally agree with Rush Limbaugh's sexism, but under our American system, listeners have the right to dial in to his shows, and he has the right to broadcast them. And the fact that someone agrees with Limbaugh's attitudes, or even displays an attitude consistent with his views, does not provide a legal right to punish that neighborhood council member or the board on which he sits. 

But the NHWNC charges and countercharges generated a flurry in local email discussions and in a couple of newspaper stories. 

Unfortunately, the City Council's Education and Neighborhoods Committee has taken up the question, and it seems likely that in defiance of rationality and common sense, some form of sexual harassment training will be imposed upon the nearly 2000 board members of the city's 95 different neighborhood councils. Did sexual harassment of anyone involved in NHWNC occur? That question doesn't seem to be very important to the committee. I would invite the members of the City Council's E&N Committee to reread the charges and countercharges, and see how thin this particular gruel is. 

And the additional question is quite pertinent: Why should any of this involve the vast majority of us who serve without pay on neighborhood council boards? The fact that very few of us supervise contract workers in the governmental setting, and that most of us are -- ahem -- of a certain age, is not considered relevant when elected politicians get hold of a juicy item. 

But the fact that something involves sex or sexual identity makes it even juicier in the eyes of the campaign managers for said officials. 

So if what I hear through the grapevine is true, the freight train is heading right at us, and whatever rational response we try to make will get flattened under its wheels. The facts be damned. We will have sexual harassment training imposed upon us. Whether it is by some polite compromise worked gently through the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners or some blunt rule passed by the City Council, that is what is likely to happen. 

I actually have a suggestion for the city fathers who want to do this. If you want to train me not to engage in sexual harassment, then send some city worker to a regularly scheduled governing board meeting of my neighborhood council, and give the training in full view of the public. You like to give lip service to the idea of public transparency. Then let's have some. Do it at 95 neighborhood councils. 

I'd almost enjoy the show. Let our stakeholders see how ridiculous our government has become. Let them stand up at our microphone and tell the city staffers just what they think of this waste of taxpayer money. 

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the city officials will do something so rational. More likely, they will attempt to impose additional training sessions that will take up our time and offend our intellects. If it's anything like the mandatory financial training, we will be summoned to some meeting at the crack of dawn on a Saturday, to be hectored about that which we do not do. 

Is this latest potential outrage enough of a matter of principle to justify a full fledged political fight on the part of our neighborhood council volunteers? It's up to us, but I would suggest that it's also a winnable fight should we choose to engage in it. 

If nothing else, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition should schedule a substantial part of its January 4, 2014 meeting for a public hearing on the charges and countercharges, followed by a discussion among our members as to what, if anything, the city ought to be doing. Let's invite all of the NHWNC factions to show up and have their say. Then let's have a serious discussion about what, if anything is wrong with the system and what we ought to be doing about it. 

My argument, if I have a chance to present it, will be that we get too excited about personality clashes and minor local feuds. We need to stand up for our own independence, and not let the City Council keep dragging us down with all these impediments they try to toss in our way. 

If we aren't capable of doing this much self-policing by now, we're not much use at all. However, I know that we are capable of hearing the facts and offering a more rational response than we seem to be getting from city government at the moment. 

And yes, that first part about the mandatory monthly drug testing for 1700 neighborhood council governing board members was an attempt at satire, albeit a little bitter. A lot of us seem to have missed the lesson that earlier encounters should have taught us: We can't always get what we want, but we are more than capable of stopping bad things from happening. If our LANCC participants and neighborhood council board members would stiffen their spines and stand up to the City Hall bullies, we could win this one too. 

And if we don't stand up for our principles and our independence, the list of rules and imposed work -- most of it entirely useless -- will continue to build.


(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]




Vol 11 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 10, 2013









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