20
Sat, Apr

To the People of Los Angeles – An Independence Day Plea

LOS ANGELES

COMMENTARY-In the weeks leading up to Independence Day, independence has been much on my mind. 

I am a Budget Advocate, but today I am writing not as a Budget Advocate but as a resident of the City of Los Angeles about an independent organization that works on behalf of us all. 

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates have represented the interests of Angelenos for the past 18 years, researching the City’s budget and fiscal choices of those who are supposed to serve us in City Hall. These choices directly impact the services the City provides our neighborhoods. 

Our research informs the Neighborhood Councils and stakeholders as well as CityWatch readers on issues related to the budget. And, for many years, the Budget Advocates have met with City departments gaining insight into their challenges and, in return, providing them feedback on stakeholders’ concerns and new ideas for General Managers to pursue. 

Our annual presentations to the Budget and Finance Committee and to the Mayor convey our concerns and recommendations to the occupants of City Hall. Many of these have been included in or folded into legislation and ordinances over the years. 

Some of you reading this are aware that there have been areas of conflict this past year between the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), the department that was created by the City Charter to help establish and support the Neighborhood Council system, and the Budget Advocates. Issues that we have tried unsuccessfully to resolve professionally and privately so as not to embroil the Neighborhood Councils and detract from their work and ours.

We have been told by DONE’s General Manager that we can no longer perform our mission as an autonomous organization but have to “negotiate” with her so she can tell us how to operate and how to spend the money that Neighborhood Councils have contributed to the Budget Advocates’ mission. 

The Budget Advocates believe we have an obligation to work for the Neighborhood Councils that elected us as individuals and supported us as an organization. We do not see ourselves becoming a tool of a department or its leadership. This latter course would destroy our credibility as an entity free of governmental interference. 

The General Manager is relying on conversations she says she has had with the City Attorney, the Controller, and the City Clerk but refuses to provide any documentation backing up her allegations. 

No department has consulted with the Budget Advocates so any opinions given must be based on the biased assertions of those seeking to destroy us. Those departments, when approached by the Budget Advocates, have given no explanation, and only referred us back to DONE’s General Manager. 

Where is the transparency that the Neighborhood Council system was supposed to bring to City politics? 

My question is, do the Neighborhood Councils and the people of Los Angeles want the Budget Advocates to continue to operate as an independent organization offering oversight and calling for transparency of the City’s budget process? Or do they want an entity that claims to represent all interests while working as a tool of one department and City Hall? 

Last October, the General Manager attempted to divert half the money in our accounts to finance her department’s operational budget. She was shut down by the City Administrative Officer. More recently, she decreed our money should be used for “budget advocacy” at her sole discretion. 

The Budget Advocates have about $50,000 on account with DONE -- money that was contributed to us by the Neighborhood Councils specifically for our work. The Neighborhood Councils elect us, we solicit their input, and we work for their interests. So why can’t we use it without the General Manager’s approval? 

Despite repeated requests, she has not confirmed that DONE will authorize payments for an in-person Budget Day. 

The General Manager has stated that the Budget Advocates should change their mission to work at a local level with the individual Neighborhood Councils. But that is not her call.  We are an independent entity with a specific mission which does not include doing what is DONE’s job. 

Despite all our work over the years, despite the fact that the Budget Advocates were created by Mayor Hahn and supported by each subsequent mayor, the current Mayor has now sent his Director of Public Engagement to tell us like errant children to go cap in hand to “negotiate with GM Beltrán about guidelines for the funds that would more closely tie the expertise you have developed. . .”                                                                                                                    

Should we negotiate with a General Manager whose actions defy any trustworthiness? 

Should we relinquish the credibility and respect we have garnered over the years to become a tool of Raquel Beltrán’s empire? 

Is this how the Budget Advocates should end? Kowtowing to bureaucrats of a mediocre and poorly managed department? 

Currently, the Budget Advocates continue their mission, albeit somewhat emasculated by the General Manager, exerting direct control over our operating funds. Our bills are not being paid, some as far back as November.  

Is it surprising we should request reasons in writing from accountable officials and not rely on second or third-hand opinions? 

And that Neighborhood Councils are upset that they can no longer contribute funds to the Budget Advocates to work for their interests because the current General Manager has maneuvered behind the scenes to change the paperwork to allow NCs to only give money to a “budget advocacy” account that only she controls? 

As Independence Day approaches, I have to reflect on the years of work by hundreds of volunteers, of the monies given to the Budget Advocates for their work and the strong support the organization has enjoyed over the years from the Neighborhood Councils, DONE, and City Hall. 

That success is a direct result of the independence Budget Advocates have had from their very beginning. 

Shall we give it up now, join the bureaucracy of DONE? Or, like the Continental Congress of 1776, fight on?

 

(Liz Amsden is an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She is a Budget Advocate and (soon-to-be) past Co-Chair and has written extensively on the City’s budget and services. In her real life she works on budgets, for film and television, where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today’s world.) Photo: PxHere – by Adam Levine. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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