DONE and the Destruction of Public Records

EASTSIDER-A few weeks ago, I wrote a column that clearly demonstrates DONE has destroyed public records in violation of State law.

Since then, the silence from the City has been deafening. So, where’s the Mayor? (Photos above: Mayor Eric Garcetti, left photo; DONE General Manager Grayce Lieu, right photo.) 

Good question, so let’s find out. Below is the text of the letter I’m sending the Mayor. 

 

Mayor Eric Garcetti

City of Los Angeles

200 N. Spring St., Room 303

Los Angeles CA 90012 

Re: Destruction of Public Records by DONE

 

Dear Mayor Garcetti, 

On November 16, 2018, I wrote a column for CityWatch entitled, “OMG - City Says BONC is not a Legitimate Commission.” 

In case your office has not seen the article, I have attached a hardcopy to this letter. In substance, the issue surrounds a State law which prohibits the destruction of public records, specifically “The minutes, ordinances, or resolutions of the legislative body or of a city board or commission.”  (Government Code Sections 3490-34095). 

The reason I know such a destruction of records took place is that after making a public records request of BONC, DONE replied to my request with a statement that “The Department has no records prior to 2008, except for one agenda dated January 17, 2006.” 

I know that you are familiar with the Neighborhood Council system, because I lived in Lincoln Heights when you were first elected as Councilmember for CD13, and you became my Councilmember when I moved to Glassell Park in 2005. You even provided space for the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council via a 30-year lease at Public Storage for a Community Center, for which we were all grateful. 

Anyhow, as you may recall, there were voluminous documents maintained by DONE when Greg Nelson became the first General Manager, shepherding BONC and the Neighborhood Councils through their initial formation and elections. This was a first of its kind endeavor launched in Los Angeles as a part of a Charter Amendment reform process. 

I am writing you as Mayor for two reasons. First, as Mayor, you appoint all Department Heads in the City of Los Angeles, and they serve at your pleasure. One of those Department Heads is Grayce Liu, the Department Head for DONE. No one other than yourself has the authority to hold her accountable. 

Second, I know that you have a deep familiarity with the beginnings and functioning of the Neighborhood Council system; as I recall you were a supporter of the 1999 Charter Reform which included the establishment of our Neighborhood Council system. You also helped monitor and grow that system, both as CD13 Councilmember in 2001, and later when you served as Council President from 2006-2012. 

Therefore, you know that the relationships between the Neighborhood Council Commission (BONC), and The Department Head of DONE is unique. The General Manager of DONE staffs the BONC but does not directly report to them except in a limited capacity. As a Department Head, only you have the authority to hire or fire Grayce Liu. 

And Grayce Liu cannot elude the fact that as the Department Head responsible for the BONC, she and only she could have authorized the destruction of the Minutes of the Commission, since they maintain them. This is critical because virtually all of the history of the Neighborhood Council system is maintained by DONE. The documents are irreplaceable. 

My particular PRA was designed for me to be able to trace the history of the “Exhaustive Efforts” policy, which was not in the original Plan. Without access to the historic files, this is virtually impossible. The loss of back files for the NC System, as revealed through the minutes of the BONC, would constitute a terrible loss to the City. 

Therefore, I am requesting that your office investigate the question as to whether or not these historic files, some going back to around 2001 when BONC first began functioning and holding incorporation hearings and elections, have been destroyed. In the event that DONE did not misspeak when they responded to my public records request, some action should be taken. 

This responsibility lies solely with you. BONC has no authority to discipline or terminate Grayce Liu.  Only you do. And if exposing the City to potential liability for violations of the requirement to keep public records does not qualify for action, then what does? 

I am also writing you because I believe that you understand the importance of maintaining records of public institutions, especially as a Rhodes scholar. At some point, it will be important to write a history of the Neighborhood Council System, part of Riordan’s 1999 Charter Reform. Was it a good thing? A fatally flawed concept? How was it implemented? How did it evolve? Should other municipalities embrace the idea? 

So how is this all going to be possible if the very records necessary for analysis have been destroyed by the Department charged with their maintenance? It’s a big deal. 

For all these reasons, I am asking your office to look into this matter, see if it is possible to find and/or recreate the lost records, and take appropriate action with respect to DONE’s Department Head. 

Sincerely, 

Tony Butka

Glassell Park

 

The Takeaway 

So, let’s see where this attempt to get public servants to do their job leads us. I have some hope that DONE has simply lost or misplaced the records, rather than affirmatively throwing them out, but you never know. I do know that when Greg Nelson was running DONE, there was a very robust website with links to tons of important information about Neighborhood Councils, DONE, the Charter Reform and historical documents. 

Personally, I would be thrilled if we could obtain this history. I hope we can. And if we can’t, someone should be held responsible. 

Stay tuned.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.