GELFAND’S WORLD - We've explored many of the inadequacies of the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment over the years, but the latest outrage goes beyond previous bounds. For one thing, it involves $4000 of misappropriated taxpayer funds. For another, it demonstrates the arrogance and ignorance of a city agency which thinks it has the authority to order around people who do not work for it or for the city.
Let's briefly summarize the conditions and then consider a couple of the issues.
There is a neighborhood council in the system of 99 nc's called the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council. It has traditionally met right at Hollywood and Western, although in this Covid-19 era it has been meeting by internet like the rest of us. For some reason, the governing board, potentially consisting of 20 members, has been having trouble getting to its quorum of 9 members and therefore has not been able to hold an actual meeting since September of last year. This is a legitimate criticism and has been a problem that merited a serious attempt at a solution.
Apparently one contributing problem was that some board members moved away, or were otherwise unable to attend meetings. the usual way to solve this is for the board to appoint replacement members. Whatever the HSDNC attempted, it obviously was not sufficient.
In an action which puzzles this observer, the president of the HSDNC requested that DONE assist in fixing the problem, but not by invoking what is known as the "lack of quorum policy," which involves DONE hosting a special meeting of the HSDNC board (even though they can't reach quorum) and allowing the remaining members to appoint enough replacements to form a quorum. I've seen this approach used effectively. Perhaps there was some technical reason that this approach was not legally justified, such as the existence of enough remaining board members that a quorum would have been present had all of them shown up.
In any case, this approach was not used by DONE.
The president had asked DONE to use Exhaustive Efforts as its approach, and DONE obliged. This process, colloquially referred to as EE, involves DONE taking over all power and authority from the elected board. DONE agendizes and hosts board meetings, and forbids committees from meeting. (And by the way, this prohibition of committee meetings is particularly troubling to me, considering the importance of emergency preparedness and the usefulness of an Emergency Preparedness Committee in helping the entire community to become better prepared.)
This is where it gets sticky. DONE sent a letter placing HSDNC in EE through June of 2023, and demanding several actions from individuals who happen to be board members, but are not in any sense employees of the City of Los Angeles.
But first we have to take a slight swerve and consider one more element of the EE demands.
It seems that the L.A. County Sheriff's office has an affiliated non-profit organization that serves youth. It's called the Sheriff's Youth Foundation of Los Angeles County. That should be a red flag right there, because the neighborhood councils are definitively part of L.A. city government, as opposed to the county government. Anyway, this nonprofit asked the HSDNC for the sum of $4000 to be allowed to occupy a booth at an event to be held Saturday, March 25. The funding request letter suggests that as many as 250 children and 25 adults will attend.
So here is where it gets really sticky. At a board meeting conducted by DONE under Exhaustive Efforts, the DONE representative explained that this event would be a way to recruit future governing board members, and that every board member would be required to attend.
Notice that at that point in the proceedings, the board had not actually voted to appropriate the $4000. They never did. Instead, the DONE representative told them point blank that the money would be spent and that they were required to attend.
Apparently, the appropriation was communicated to the office of the City Clerk, which is the agency that makes such payments.
But members of the HSDNC board objected at the time of the meeting. Their reasons are not necessarily relevant, as it should be up to board members elected from their own community to decide on the neighborhood council's expenditures. That's how the system is supposed to work. But we know of at least two of the objections and can mention them here. The first is that this would be a ridiculously inefficient and ineffective way of recruiting new board members. The event is expected to bring about 25 adults (ie: recruitable people) but they won't necessarily be eligible to be HSDNC board members because the event will likely be held out of the HSDNC district and possibly even outside the city of Los Angeles. As was remarked, $4000 is a lot of money (more. than ten percent of their whole yearly budget) to be able to recruit from the small number of 25 people. The other objection was that the Sheriff's department has historically been racist and violent, and for this reason, some members of the HSDNC community were opposed to supporting them.
We have it on reasonable testimony that the DONE representative told the board meeting that in spite of their protests, the expenditure would go through and that they must attend. Any board member who did not attend would be removed from the board.
In response, 8 members of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council governing board resigned in protest. They refer specifically to the decision by DONE to spend $4000 of neighborhood council money and the threat to remove any member from the board who did not attend the event. Thus by forcing the expenditure and ordering the board members around like DONE owned them, DONE has effectively done more to ruin the ability of the board to function than any board member could have done. The resignation letter specifically refers to DONE representative Mario Hernandez as being instrumental in the $4000 appropriation and in the threat to remove board members for not jumping to DONE commands.
There is a little more to the story, which I will summarize here in the briefest possible terms. In creating a program of Exhaustive Efforts, DONE takes it upon itself to create what it calls a "Work Program." In this case, the work program also demands that board members participate in various trainings for which they will not be paid, nor will they have any say in the merits of such trainings.
Perhaps DONE and the city of Los Angeles would be well served to remind themselves that our country has a saying which is binding on all of us:
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." (Amendment 13 to the U.S. Constitution)
If we are going to have mandatory training within the City of Los Angeles, it ought to be for the paid staff members of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, and it ought to be about the Bill of Rights and the post-Civil War amendments.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)