EASTSIDER--Continuing the theme of lawless imposition, let’s take a look at the total absence of due process, moral authority, and frankly, competence, by DONE and BONC. Looks like Lincoln Heights is ground zero.
We Already Know DONE Destroys Public Records
Way back in 2018, I demonstrated that DONE has destroyed any number of public records without so much as lip service to the California Law
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 never got any reply from the Mayor or BONC or DONE. Surprised?
The NC’s Been DONE and BONC’d on Mandatory Training
The stated rationale for mandatory training on “ethical management of public funds” is to train the Board members as to the rules before they can vote on funds. And you will note, there is nothing in the website other than a requirement that Board member who does not take the training can’t vote on funding. From the website.
“FUNDING TRAINING FOR NC BOARD MEMBERS & TREASURERS
All Neighborhood Council board members are required to take training on the ethical management of public funds. NC Treasurers and other board members who handle financial transactions for their NC must take additional funding training.
All NC funding-related trainings are conducted by the Office of the City Clerk, who also administers the Neighborhood Council Funding Program. Get the City Clerk’s Funding training schedule on their NC Funding Program webpage.”
On the other hand, there is no reason that they cannot constitute a quorum, deal with land use issues (usually the hot spot for Neighborhood Councils) or take a position on the various stupidities perpetrated by BONC and DONE.
And I must point out that it’s pretty revealing that elected City Councilmembers don’t have to take any training at all before they can vote on funds. BIG funds. Think PLUM Committee funds. Think Jose Huizar and friends. Gee, maybe BONC and DONE can help them out, you think?
So it is clear that the only real reason for this stupid pre-requirement for already toothless Neighborhood Councils is so that DONE can control what they can and cannot spend - most of which is for services that the Charter says the City should pay for in the first place.
Very recently, BONC and DONE proudly doubled down on getting rid of people they don’t like, (oops), I mean, miscreants who don’t take the Training. Even though they are legitimately elected Board members It’s called the BONC Board Member Removal Policy.
They could not even provide a legal basis for their asininity, since there is nothing in the Charter, or the Neighborhood Plan, or at law, which allows them to do this. Other than their evident god given power to ignore reality and set out to be judge and jury over a group of volunteers dim enough to try and actually do their duty to their stakeholders.
In Lincoln Heights, DONE has had the effrontery to send a memo which suspends 4 Board members, with the threat of removal. Here’s the email in its entirety. Because it’s important:
---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: EmpowerLA <[email protected]>
Date: Wed, Aug 12, 2020 at 11:12 AM
Subject: BOARD NOTICE - Board Member Suspension - Expired/Missing Code of Conduct Training
To: LHNC <[email protected]>
Cc: Jackie Kim <[email protected]>
Dear Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council,
As you are aware, on or after November 1, 2016, a newly elected, selected, appointed or re-elected Neighborhood Council Board Member is required to provide a signed and dated copy of the attached Code of Conduct to the Department bearing their signature, or to participate in a Code of Conduct training approved by the Department within 30 days of the election or selection being certified by the Department or within 30 days of selection or appointment to the board. Thereafter, all new Neighborhood Council Board Members shall renew their Code of Conduct every two years.
Any Neighborhood Council Board Member who fails or refuses to review, sign, date and provide a copy of the attached Code of Conduct to the Department or participate in the approved Department training within the above mentioned time frames is subject to suspension from their Neighborhood Council. Once suspended, the board member may not act on any matter that comes before their Neighborhood Council. Additionally, their presence at the meeting may and shall not be counted for the purpose of establishing a quorum of the Neighborhood Council’s meeting.
Upon review of our training records with the Department, we see that some Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council Board Members have been out of compliance for longer than 30 days of their Code of Conduct expiration date, or we do not have information to support that they have completed the Code of Conduct agreement, including their signature, as of 30 days of receiving their Cornerstone Board Member Training Portal login credentials. Pursuant to the Code of Conduct Policy, they have been notified that their Board Member status has been suspended. While suspended, they cannot act on any matter that comes before your Neighborhood Council and cannot be counted for the purpose of establishing a quorum of the Neighborhood Council. They have 30 days from the date of their notice to submit their signed Code of Conduct agreement in the Cornerstone Board Member Training Portal.
It is in the Department's interest to avoid the need to progress to the next step, which is to remove the board member from service on your Neighborhood Council. We are available to provide individuals with assistance in this regard. If their Code of Conduct is not submitted by August 24, 2020, they will be removed from the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council board.
If they would like to provide evidence of their Code of Conduct compliance, they should notify us and include any substantiating evidence by emailing [email protected].
The following Board Members have been suspended:
Erika Xu - Expiration Date: (None Recorded)
Stefan Acheson - Expiration Date: (None Recorded)
Vicente Gonzalez-Reyes - Expiration Date: 1/2/2019
Maribel Hernandez - Expiration Date: 6/8/2018
Department of Neighborhood Empowerment
200 N. Spring Street, Suite 2005
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Downtown Office: (213) 978-1551
Downtown Fax: (213) 978-1751
Think about it. You will note that the anonymous “Empower LA” gives no citation as to a law or rule which allows them to suspend an elected Board member for choosing not to take the funding training. And guess what, your Neighborhood Council could be next.
We Know BONC and DONE Already Don’t Believe in the Brown Act
In a series of recent articles, I demonstrated that BONC and DONE regularly violate the Ralph M Brown Act. The most recent was Return to Sender - LA City Attorney Does NOT Represent NC Councils
“In my particular case, I’m guessing that the City Attorney can’t provide a legal opinion to support BONC’s interpretation of the Brown Act because there isn’t one. That’s right, it was probably the usual City Attorney giving BONC a verbal OK to do what DONE wanted them to do. After all, who can challenge them?
An even worse possibility is that if there really was a legal opinion, whoever did it should be sanctioned by the California Bar, because there is absolutely no exception to the Special Meeting section of the Brown Act that I can find.
Bullshit again, and now the LA City Attorney is in collusion with the City Clerk, BONC, and DONE in hiding the reality.”
Bylaws, Bylaws, They Are Now Preempting Neighborhood Council Bylaws!
We’ve covered bylaws before. Especially DONE’s contradictory and frankly nuts idea of what a Quorum means.
“So recently, in Lincoln Heights, the question came up about Board member eligibility to vote to ensure that there was a quorum present. During that event, the designated replacement for Mario Hernandez, one Jackie Kim, pontificated that Board members who had not completed the three trainings could not vote to call a quorum.
Her pitch was that they would have to abstain, and that meant a “No” vote and hence no quorum. Ph.D. level stuff. Unfortunately, there were a couple of reality checks that were missing, no doubt due to the incompetence of DONE’s training of their own staff. At least I hope that’s all it was”
You can read the rest of the article for the details. Also, in a ‘only in LA’ twist, you should note that the only requirement BONC itself has on Bylaws is a table of contents!
Honest, I couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s like a very bad Sci-Fi Graphic Novel. And that is the statutory authority Neighborhood Councils actually have to adhere to.
Now, and more alarming, DONE is simply unilaterally imposing Bylaws on the Neighborhood Councils which they themselves have written with no authority.
If there is some big deal over having a quorum under DONE’s iffy interpretation of how to count, there is a simple fix. Reduce the number of Board members needed to have a quorum. How about 7, or 9, any odd number?
Unfortunately, the only reason we can’t do this is that the Charter requires Neighborhood Councils to be subject to the Ralph M Brown Act, which requires 50% plus one of the total number of Board members for a quorum.
“Under the Brown Act, two or more people must be present to conduct a meeting. Wilson v. San Francisco Mun. Ry., 29 Cal. App. 3d 870, 878-79, 105 Cal. Rptr. 855 (1973). A majority of the members of a legislative body of a local agency constitutes a meeting under the Brown Act. Cal. Gov't Code § 54952.2(a).”
So, in the case of Lincoln Heights, there are currently 26 Board members, with a quorum constituting 14. In a Zoom environment, without any physical meeting, good luck on getting 14 people present, especially as DONE keeps chopping down the number who can even be on the Board.
Yet Neighborhood Councils are not real, normal legislative bodies - or they could tell BONC and DONE to go to hell. They could have their own Counsel, etc. They are a special and unique entity established by Charter to hold the real legislative body of LA City and the City Council, to account.
What they are is limited “legislators” only for purposes of being subject to the provisions of the Brown Act, as required by the Charter.
So. Instead of having attorneys on deck, Neighborhood Councils wind up with BONC and DONE telling them what to do. And if it is not apparent yet that nobody in the LA City family want’s anything to do with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, let’s check on the City Clerk. Remember them? The folks who handle public records requests for DONE?
Well no more :-)
I put in a public records act request this week with the City Clerk, asking for documents pertaining to BONC or DONE having the authority to unilaterally change a Neighborhood Council’s Bylaws. Wham bam, a moment later, they closed the file with a doozy of an explanation:
Record request #20-6483 has been closed and published. The closure reason supplied was:
As of this date, our office has determined that the Office of the City Clerk is not in possession of any documents or information relating to your request. Please be advised that this response does not include any records that may be in the custody of other City departments. Each department in the City of Los Angeles maintains and is responsible for their own records. This request with the Office of the City Clerk is considered closed.
For all other city department’s records please go to their respective webpage and contact them directly or please contact 311 Call Center at 213-473-3231.
Please contact the Department on Neighborhood Empowerment at (213) 978-1551 or visit their website at http://www.EmpowerLA.org or email [email protected] for the records that you records that you are seeking.
So, there you have it. The City Clerk has decided that dealing with DONE and BONC simply embroils them in nothing but trouble, and potential litigation I think they’re on to something.
So (of course), I sent an email to the Department of Empowerment:
Since the City Clerk evidently is not responding to PRA requests about DONE and BONC, here is the text of the PRA I sent today regarding the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment:
"BONC and/or DONE have recently unilaterally imposed Bylaws on the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council, and I have been informed by other NC members that they have done the same for them.
I can find no legal authority for this in either the BONC or DONE websites, and I can find nothing at all about Neighborhood Council Bylaws on either site. I am requesting any and all information regarding the process of Neighborhood Councils requesting changes in their bylaws, as well as any and all information regarding either DONE or BONC's authority to unilaterally impose changes."
Please consider this a formal PRA request to the Department.
As soon as I get an answer, I’ll keep everyone posted.
(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.)