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Fri, Jul

I Declare...

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - Everyone wants to have their own way. 

But that is a want. 

Before wants and wishes can be addressed, there are basic needs that must be met. Air to breathe and water to drink, shelter and warmth, food and clothing. Sleep. Safety. On our streets and in our homes. 

Healthcare and emotional support. A family. Love and relationships. Trust and appreciation. Learning. Creativity. 

Aesthetic appreciation. Self-esteem in achieving ones’ ideals. 

Many of these are met for most people in society today. But not all, and not for everyone. 

How would you feel if you were trans in a Texas school? Gay or bisexual in the Bible belt? Black or Native American in a wealthy white enclave? Poor in a garden of riches? 

What are considered rights can change over time and between cultures. Does that make them less of a right and more of a wish? Let’s consider. 

When those living in what became the United States of America declared their independence from England and created the grand design of their freedoms, they were actually building on previous endeavors in framing human rights. 

Like the Magna Carta of 1215 which proscribed the rights of the English king and started down the road to making monarchs subject to the rule of law and documenting the liberties granted free men. 

Of course, the definition of “free men” has altered radically since the barons of Merrie Olde England took the profligate King John to task. 

The Declaration of Independence, the first formal statement by the leadership of the rebellious Colonies, was followed by the Constitution of the United States and, to ensure that those opposed to a strong federal government, the individual freedoms were then spelled out in the Bill of Rights. 

This last was actually a series of amendments to the Constitution ongoing even today, the first ten of which were bitterly fought over and eventually passed in 1791.                                                                       

Amongst a few that have little relevance today (the quartering of troops), are our most valued rights, more American than apple pie. Rights most of us would fight for in a myriad different ways to maintain: freedom of religion, of speech, and press, and the right to assemble. 

To privacy, and the right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure, and from cruel and unusual punishment. And, in the event of being accused of a crime, the right to confront ones’ accuser, to be represented by counsel, and the right to due process. 

To those were added, among other more mundane issues, the abolition of slavery and the extension of voting to blacks and women and Americans over 17. Notably, the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have expanded women’s rights, and an amendment to allow the federal government oversight of child labor have not been passed. 

The Ninth Amendment reserved rights not enumerated in the Constitution and its amendments to the people and to the states. 

When the Neighborhood Council system was created in Los Angeles, it was to give ordinary Angelenos a way to communicate their wishes to a City Council that, rife with corruption, tended to listen to friends and lobbyists at the expense of those they were supposed to serve. 

Like King John of old, once the Neighborhood Councils started flexing their power if only to advise, the City of Los Angeles and its handmaiden, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), have tried to curtail that power to ask uncomfortable questions about the quality and transparency of the City Council and its Mayor, Councilmembers and departments. 

Much of what is being called into question is clearly within the Neighborhood Councils’ purview as set out in the City Charter that came into effect in July 2000: rights to bodily safety, medical coverage, unpolluted air, affordable housing, clean water and healthy food at reasonable prices, and safety on our streets. To what degree the City can address them is another matter. 

But, how would you feel if you did not have freedom of speech or due process, yet that is what may be being discussed over the next few months and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners revises and reviews the Neighborhood Council Board Member Code of Conduct Policy. 

The current version addresses the more egregious concerns that came up 18 months ago but doesn’t jam that genie back into the bottle. 

Removal of board members for anything other than egregious behavior or the threat of violence as had been proposed by the previous General Manager of DONE is a non-starter and must be reserved to the electorate. Such removal by any entity or person other than those who elected them or, in certain cases, the Neighborhood Council on which they sit, is de facto silencing of political speech. 

The granting of the aforesaid General Manager the right to dismiss and remove from office duly elected board members based solely on her administrative discretion in City Ordinance 187803 pursuant to Council File 20-0990 was an affront to the Neighborhood Councils, setting an appalling precedent for bureaucratic oversight of democratic proceedings. 

Reframing that power would not impact other elements of the ordinance. 

The Neighborhood Councils were established to shine a spotlight on poor and irresponsible behavior at City Hall at a time when the City was at risk of losing both the Valley and Harbor areas for disregarding the legitimate complaints of their residents. 

Social norms can be changed but not if caring people keep silent. 

The Neighborhood Councils must come together to enumerate the rights granted to them under the current City Charter and then move forward to redress issues that are impeding their ability to function effectively. 

In a democracy, the electorate must be able to see what elected officials are doing i.e. full transparency. To effect change the electorate must have the right to ask the questions of those in power to ensure they are held accountable. 

And it is they who must establish priorities and bend the power of City Hall to the will of the people.

 

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  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.)