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Thu, Jun

The City Should Enforce a Code of Conduct on Itself Before the Neighborhood Councils

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - Yet again the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners is rushing to put a revised Code of Conduct for the Neighborhood Councils in place.

Previous versions had been rejected as too restrictive of First Amendment rights, denying due process, and removing power from Neighborhood Councils and giving it to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), the department that is supposed to be supporting the Neighborhood Councils, not supervising them.

Members of the Neighborhood Councils have consistently called on the City to allow a minimum of 60 days, preferably 90, between introducing any policy, change or action that would affect Angelenos so that Neighborhood Councils would have time to get information, discuss, obtain community input and advise those concerned with implementing such procedures.

Ninety days may seem like a great deal of time but since board members are all volunteers with busy lives and Neighborhood Councils only meet once a month, time flies by on issues that may affect people for the rest of their life. And the right to advise is spelled out in the City Charter.

This iteration of the Code of Conduct is dated August 10 and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners is proposing to take comment in three meetings then vote on it on mid-October. That’s over 60 days. But...

In its previous version, there were several meetings over months to discuss and get input. Partly due to content and partly due to its excessive legalese, the consensus last May that it wasn’t ready for prime time.

Changes were again made in closed-door meetings with no significant improvements. And this update didn’t start seeping into the Neighborhood Council community until the very end of August.

Since the elections, too many Neighborhood Councils have not been able to meet or pass resolutions for a variety of reasons ranging from a lack of meeting space conforming to City requirements, a lack of a quorum due to a poorly envisioned election and, in one case, most of the board quitting after inappropriate support by DONE and the City Attorney’s office for a registered sex offender who was (unbeknownst at the time) elected to their board.

Certainly everyone wants common-sense civility to be observed by all board members and stakeholders; people need to respect each other no matter what their origin, choices or station in life. As elected officials, all board members must be accountable, not only to those who elected them but to everyone they serve.

And this goes for all DONE staff whose sole mission should be to support the Neighborhood Councils.

And doubly so for all City Councilmembers and their staffs who carry greater responsibility and are paid out of our tax dollars at twice, thrice, six times what many of their constituents make.

Yet have been recorded making racist and abusive statements, continuing to accept donations from lobbyists and unions prior to making sweetheart backroom deals, and refusing to listen to the Neighborhood Councils and other community interest groups that represent those who put them on the City Council in the first place.

So, yes, it’s time to update the Neighborhood Council Code of Conduct, but let’s take the time to make sure it’s the best damn document that it can be and serves all parties equally.

AND, prior to even addressing behavior at the Neighborhood Council level, and FAR MORE IMPORTANTLY, to show that our paid leaders are equally obligated, let’s make sure before Neighborhood Council board members agree to a new Code of Conduct, that ALL City Councilmembers and their staffs have to commit to adhering to an equally stringent Code that addresses both civility and ethics, both of which have been in sadly short supply at City Hall in recent years.

It must hold these paid servants of the people to even higher standards so they provide superlative role models for Neighborhood Council board and committee members. Otherwise, how can the City expect better behavior at the neighborhood level?

It must be truly enforceable so miscreants can be evicted without pay within weeks of revelation of impropriety instead of the months and years people like José Huizar and others continued to suck on the City teat, incurring mounting legal fees for the City and failing to adequately represent the District that they purported to represent.

There can be no double standards. If Neighborhood Councils are forbidden to air their concerns to any relevant government other than City Hall without City approval, the City Attorney certainly should not be able to promulgate changes to the California Public Records Act to Sacramento, contrary to the interests of Angelenos, and about which nary a Council File exists.

Talking about the City Attorney’s office, Neighborhood Council participants are warned that they could be sued if they don’t follow advice and, if so, the City Attorney would then not defend them. Question: why would that office have stepped in to defend the likes of José Huizar and Curran Price on conflict-of-interest and countless other charges?

The City Attorney must stop informing City Councilmembers – during and outside of Council meetings – about ways to skirt the rules, and start protecting the rights of Neighborhood Councils in supporting them in bringing advice to all levels of City government.

DONE and a dedicated section of the City Attorney’s office need to be rewired to work for and represent the interests solely of the Neighborhood Councils and their stakeholders. We don’t need a DONE or a City Attorney who puts the rights of a registered sex offender before those of Angelenos.

The Ethics Commission and their staff must be given the power to enforce full transparency, and stop the behind-closed-door dealings. They must be properly funded to expeditiously hold all City employees including all appointed and elected officials – whether caught with envelopes of cash or caches of gold bars or simply turning a blind eye – accountable for their actions.

The City Attorney needs to grow some balls to force the City Council to abide by the law.

And the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners should never rush anything through simply to check it off a list – it is far harder to undo bad decisions than to take the extra time to get it right in the first place.

Is the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners trying to slip a City Council-style fast one by us? A sleight of hand – no, there’s nothing, now there is. Motion, second. Discussion. none, good. The auctioneer’ gavel descends.

But wait!

Reportedly due to an influx of less-than-favorable comments, there will now be several more meetings to show up at in person or on Zoom https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82041875556 to give your input. And any individual can send an e-mail outlining their objections to the Commissioners at [email protected].

At the very least, call for a delay until after the City Council can be unambiguously tethered to a strong Code of Conduct of their own.

 

(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.)