By Greg Nelson
Former General Manager, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment
By this time I’m sure you are aware of the vicious attack on the neighborhood council system
that is being formulated by the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee.
I viewed the meeting on the city’s website the next morning and wrote a report for CityWatch
that can be read at http://www.citywatchla.com/content/view/2260/. I won’t repeat what’s in it. Rather, I’d like to say some things that the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment cannot say. It’s my advantage as a retiree.
First of all, there is some confusion about the key dates that lie ahead. I checked with
the City Clerk and the CLA.
May 12. The Budget and Finance Committee is scheduled to have its final votes on its
recommended amendments to the mayor’s budget. It could go through each item one at a time,
or vote on the whole package. At this meeting, the Chief Legislative Analyst (CLA) brings
with him a written report on the amendments he feels the committee wants to adopt. You
won’t find this on the website before the meeting. It’s a good day for public testimony to
May 15. The mayor’s budget and the committee’s recommended changes will be formally
presented to the full City Council AND public testimony will be heard. Another good day to
May 18. The City Council goes to work on the budget. In past years, this has been started
and finished on the same day. It’s possible that this year, the process could be
”stretched” over two days. The following day is Election Day, so who knows.
WHO’S TO BLAME?
Many of you have been asking if there was a vote in committee on the proposal to reduce the
annual allocation to the neighborhood councils down to about $10,000. There wasn’t a formal
Greig Smith and Bernard Parks led the attack. At the end, Parks made a suggestion, the one
you’ve been reading about. It was one of those “without objection” moments. Parks made his
suggestion and nobody else on the committee offered an alternative r spoke up. The
committee members can change their minds on May 12.
Wendy Greuel was absent. Bill Rosendahl played a minor role. Jose Huizar expressed
concerned about the disportionate hit that the neighborhood councils would be taking.
WHAT TO DO:
NCs and the individuals within them need to decide if they’re going to propose a compromise or draw the line here. Throughout the Neighborhood Council File issue, the NCs kept giving and giving, negotiating with no one but still compromising, and they ended up with the City Council deciding that all board members needed to fill out extensive forms about their financial and property holdings in order to voice their opinions.
So you’ve got a choice here: assume that the other council members will be looking for
compromise, and try and craft one with what little time you have, or demand that the council
members support the mayor’s proposal.
Because time is short, I wouldn’t worry too much about calling NC meetings in order to
adopt positions. Besides, the City Council already decided that it would ban Community
Impact Statements from being printed on agendas, so that tool has been degraded.
Much more powerful than how many NCs take a position on this matter, or how many Community
Impact Statements are filed, is how many INDIVDUALS apply pressure to the City Council
members. This is about pure politics. Volume counts.
Rather than wait for this matter to come up in the City Council, there could be a steady
flow of speakers coming to the City Council meetings between now and then, and using Public
Comment time to express their feelings. It’s always dangerous, and often fruitless to wait
until the last minute.
What also apalls me is that while this is going on, the City Council
brags that it is taking a 10% cut along with everyone else. But their
slush fund, the Council District Community Services fund, has been
recommended by the mayor to be funded once again at $1,500,000, or
$100,000 per City Council district. No 10% cut.
The money is spent at the discretion of the Council member, but unlike
expenditures made in public meetings by the NCs, and listed on the
Internet, the City Council member decides secretly how to spend the
money. Try going to the city’s website, or the city budget to find out
how this money is spent. You won’t find anything.
But worse is that the Council members are allowed to rollover unused
money from this fund each year — something that they want to prohibit
the NCs from doing, and the Council members quietly give themselves
permission at the end of each year (it’s going to happen soon) to
transfer unused money from the slush fund to their office budgets to
pay for staff salaries.
The simple message to ask your friends, and organizations you’ve
befriended, to send to the City Council is to support the mayor’s
proposal regarding the Neighborhood Council Funding Program. If you
can state a few reasons, all the better.
FIGHTING FOR YOUR RIGHTS:
I would like to encourage attorneys who support the neighborhood
council system to contact me at email@example.com. There are three parts
of the City Charter and the City Administrative Code that are being
violated, and I would like to brainstorm some legal solutions.
The first area involves what the Budget and Finance Committee is trying
to do. Laws have certain expectations of the neighborhood councils, and
it requires the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and the city to
provide enough support to get the job done. At some point, I’m sure a
court would agree, the support would get so low that laws would be
Second is the Early Warning part of the City Charter. It requires that
NCs be given enough notice before decisons are made so they can discuss
them and weigh in. But the law is routinely violated. The last example
was the way Proposition B, the solar measure, was rushed to the ballot.
Clearly it was done this way to ensure that was no time for the kind of
public discussion that the City Charter requires.
The third relates to that part of the City Charter that requires the
city to put into the budget enough money to support the NC system in
the following year. Yet, the amount of money that is earmarked for
this just $140,000. Hardly enough for all the city staff, the
elections, and offices, staff, and communications for the NCs, etc.
I know how bullies work. They will take and take, and push and push as
long as they can get away with it. It might be time to “just say no.”
FIXING THE BUDGET PROCESS:
This may be a time when you will get a receptive audience for another
badly needed change. As soon as this budget is over, work begins on the
next one. Sadly, the budget timetable allows little or no time for NCs
and others to get involved once the proposed budget is released. The
mayor must release the budget BY April 20, but he can release it
earlier to give the City Council and the public time to engage in
meaningful discussions. I don’t think there is any other city in the
nation where the city budget deliberations take place in one day.