D.O.N.E. - When one of a president’s, governor’s, or big city mayor’s direct reports abruptly retires after allegations of impropriety, it’s generally deemed newsworthy… Except here in Los Angeles.
On the day it became generally known Mayor Karen Bass had asked one of her GM’s to “retire” (read: terminated) I was waiting on the LA Times’ story coverage to post or publish. I spilled some digital ink typing out an editorial in a response that I’ve been writing in my head for years. The story I anticipated never ran, and probably was never written.
TO: LA Times
RE: (Reporter’s Name)’s ‘Fired GM Story Never Written’ / Sunday 03/05/2023
I am genuinely impressed that Mayor Karen Bass has shown the door to her Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE)’s General Manager, Raquel Beltrán, after some of her staff’s routine shenanigans came to light.
For those familiar with LA’s system of neighborhood councils, Beltrán’s rapid exit was a long time in coming. And as she was installed in late 2019 by former mayor Eric Garcetti… that says a lot.
There are differing opinions on who poisoned whom in a colossal case of miscasting. Did she infect DONE with a petty vindictive streak sanctioning her staff to run roughshod throughout the city? Or was she contaminated by the municipal culture that permeates ‘Empower LA’? (The kinder, gentler, moniker DONE prefers over its awful acronym.) When the near entirety of a governing board resigns in protest, it begs the question: Was it because of a one-off act by a rogue operator, or the last straw in a litany of bad behavior?
Anyone with institutional memory of our NC system can attest DONE was way broken before Beltrán arrived. She ultimately failed by paying heed to what she heard, rather than what she saw. Either that, or she’s truly evil. DONE’s detractors are legion, but like anything else, it has its share of sycophants telling GM’s they’re just plain swell.
The modus operandi of portraying LA’s neighborhood councils as mostly naïve gadflies, kooks, and rabble has been the most fruitful thing DONE’s accomplished in nearly a quarter century. Sadly, the characterization is somewhat true. One needs only to attend a few board or committee meetings at a majority of LA’s neighborhood councils to come away wholly underwhelmed. Again, the question is why.
Consider the LA Times Editorial Board’s ‘Why LA needs a Larger City Council’ last November citing a need for “localized attention,” adding “smaller districts also just make sense, in terms of geography and community identity”---you mean like neighborhoods? Concluding that expanding the city council would “improve delivery of city services… giving residents a greater voice and influence at city hall.” Wow. Most of these sentiments are enshrined, verbatim, in the city charter as law tasking neighborhood councils to deliver on them. The Times can’t not know about this, so, it seems it too has written off NCs as a lost cause. Why?
Because DONE. Elected officials come and go, but it’s governmental infrastructure that for better or worse holds it together. DONE, the entity tasked with providing mechanism, support, and operational continuity for NCs has devolved into quasi police force that relishes its work. Whether pipelining tax dollars to curry favor with the county sheriff’s department, or citing undated, unsigned, unknown blog-posted memos as official City policy, or empaneling kangaroo courts that trampled over people’s civil rights, DONE excels in infantilizing the councils they purportedly support. It should surprise no one it, along with the NC system, is a hot mess. Mostly. In the midst of the crazies, chaos, and political toxicity, there are people working their tails off purely to make their communities better places to live. But forcing motivated volunteers under the yoke of an ineffective system is an effective way to lose them, along with your credibility.
To replace Beltrán, it’s not like LA can recruit someone from another city like a police chief from New York or a school superintendent from Miami. The system is a unique beast that will eat yet another academian or politico lacking the leadership and management chops to fix a jet plane, midflight.
I have now worked with four DONE general managers, and each was successively less qualified than their predecessor. The people and processes the city used in the past to qualify candidates needs to be thrown out and rethought from the ground up.
If it is broke, do fix it.
The best thing Mayor Bass can do is not make her choice before consulting an outside firm specializing in municipal process. Tasking them to objectively evaluate what’s working and what’s not with DONE, including the mayoral appointed Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC), as this gig is a prime example where the city really needs to “hire slowly…”
(Mark Mauceri served on the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC) Board officer for over 10 years, and now serves on various committees. He can be reached at [email protected].)