Thu, Dec

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Free Speech vs. Peaceful Co-Existence


ACCORDING TO LIZ - How to forge a balance between the right to free speech and the right to peaceful co-existence?

How does a Goat Puppet gain a more equal footing than hundreds and hundreds of Angelenos from the City Council to stakeholders.

Despite Wayne Spindler winning lawsuits alleging Los Angeles trampled on his First Amendment rights, it is he who has trampled – for over ten years – and continues to trample on the rights of both elected and appointed officials and all Angelenos who have attended the meetings that Goat Puppet has interrupted, disrupted, offended and disrespected.

Which brings us to the eminently well-intended but disturbing-in-application DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) Policy of the City of Los Angeles. People should not have to be told to use common sense and treat everyone with respect, also offensive in that many of the DEI trainings abounding in recent years resort to shaming people to make their point.

Which tends to lead not to turning on, but to tuning out and dropping out. Building resentment and plain old disregard of these issues as more “woke” BS.

City employees are paid to attend training that is relevant to their positions and used on a daily basis.

But when it comes to attempts by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) to foist a Code of Conduct incorporating these DEI policies and other behavioral admonitions on the City’s Neighborhood Councils board and committee members, it sounds far too much like Big Brother busy at work to be palatable.

The object of the exercise is that people understand, not they zone out resting their eyeballs on a screen for the requisite number of minutes. Time in front of a computer or in a classroom is not learning. Understanding is.

Whether brief seminars going over specific issues, especially those that may make some people feel uncomfortable, or a round table chat on how to run a meeting, or a formal presentation as may be requested by a Neighborhood Council, these need to be time and content appropriate.

While the newest iteration of the Neighborhood Council Code of Conduct addresses board and committee members, how can these regulations be imposed on disruptive members of the public, especially those spouting vulgarities in meetings where children are present.

Board members want to be empowered, not encumbered with rules. Board members don’t need berating, board members need self-empowerment so they can be confident as elected officials representing their communities, in knowing what is appropriate and acting in ways that reflect that understanding.

Neighborhood Council board members are not in kindergarten with DONE as the ruler-toting teacher.

Neighborhood Councils need to take care of their individual issues. Grassroots government means you are responsible for cleaning up your own messes. Life tends to be messy but there are many options other than bending over for bureaucrats. If there is a credible physical threat, call in the cops – that is why our taxes pay for the LAPD.

Hair-splitting over conduct and discrimination just provides the City with machinery to further divide and conquer the advisory system created under the 2000 City Charter. Neighborhood Councils were put in place to rein in some of the excesses of the City Council by increasing the public’s awareness and giving the people a mechanism to channel their displeasure in the City government.

Allowing any bureaucrat or, worse, a Councilmember they are supposed to advise to censure or punish Neighborhood Council board members. This is especially true for the arbitrary removal of a board member from an elected position with no appeal which is not only undemocratic, it is patently unfair to those who elected them.

The intent of an eight-page Code of Conduct may be noble, and everyone has experienced frustration in dealing with the consequences of board member misconduct, but this revised Code of Conduct feels just a little over the top and lacks common sense.

It appears to be a course in ultra-specificity and micro-managing instead of trusting our elected board members will do the right thing and comport themselves with civility. Even if some of our Councilmembers may not.

Moses didn’t bring down 110 commandments, he brought down only ten. And they were simple and easy to follow.

The existing Code of Conduct is a one-pager, simple for all to read and understand.

What DONE and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners want to replace it with is glistening with convoluted language and legal clarifications. Although broken into ten paragraphs, many have multiple bullet points compounding what was once simple into well over a hundred itemized infractions those signing it are supposed to refrain from.

Just having to wade through the fine print is exclusionary in a City of multiple languages, cultures and comprehension.

It also encourages all sorts of blame games and wallowing by the over-sensitive and even more virtue-signaling by those already enamored of that form of reverse attack. How do you make sure people don't over-react and claim sexual harassment when someone compliments another person's appearance?

And, as previously mentioned, it skirts around one real problem: how to deal with stakeholder heckling, abuse and vulgarity.

Because the City does nothing in reaction to hecklers they can’t control in their own meetings, does not make putting up with them good policy. Would you let a two-year-old having a tantrum run your meeting?

In fact, advocates speaking on topic have been shut down by boards who don’t want to listen to their opinions while abuse is put up with – go figure.

And why should Board members s be weighed down with intricate instructions on how to comport themselves when too many on the City Council are violating the electorate’s trust, actively or complicit in their silence?

Think of some creative way to take on the Goat Puppet, their terminally time-sucking brethren, and run-of-the-mill hecklers and share it widely. Perhaps specify in the agenda that comments need to be pertinent to the Neighborhood Council.

At the first bleat, thank Wayne and advise attendees that you will play some restful music to drown out the animals for the rest of the minute or two allotted. Like any toddler, he will bore quickly from the lack of attention.

Three more points. One, no training should be formulated to embarrass or shame people as in the case in a significant number of DEI programs. Two, the learning should be measured in comprehension, verifying participants understand their obligations.

Three, none of these, individually or in aggregate should be so time intensive, so irrelevant to many board members, so inaccessible due to language, content or technology, as is now the case, that dis-incentivizes people from joining Neighborhood Councils and so makes our communities less inclusive.

This document is just too long, too complex, too threatening in its entirety, is couched in language that is hard to understand even for the English speakers and, too often, irrelevant to their work. There is no clear delineation of when one’s life as a Neighborhood Council participant ends and when the rest of one’s life begins.

If at all.

Itemizing hair styles, come on, guys. This needs to go back to the drawing board.

A few years ago, the State of California came up with a list of seven guidelines for those traveling in the state, its Travel Code:

  1. Roam Responsibly. I will explore California thoughtfully and responsibly, maintaining the utmost respect for everyone and everything I encounter.
  2. Educate Myself. I will do my research before traveling across the state, familiarizing myself with local regulations and community concerns, which may have changed over time. This is especially important in rural communities with limited healthcare resources.
  3. Safety First. I will follow public health directives from government officials, including physical distancing measures. I will take all necessary steps to minimize health risks to myself and others and stay home if I’m sick.
  4. Preserve California. I will protect and nurture the Golden State’s pristine outdoor spaces and cultural icons, by maintaining a light footprint at every turn and paying special attention to delicate ecosystems. 
  5. Embrace Community. I will support local businesses and do my part to ensure the long-term prosperity of the places I visit.
  6. Celebrate Culture. I will immerse myself in California’s diverse local cultures and embrace the traditions and practices I encounter.
  7. Teach Others. I will lead by example and share these practices with fellow travelers, acknowledging that we all share the responsibility to protect California.

Notice what the red letters spell?

So, how about limiting the Neighborhood Council’s Code of Conduct to just those seven letters: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

And think about how much happier our own lives would be if people were to embrace the same approach everywhere else their lives, from the City Council to birthdays with Grandma.


(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.)