GELFAND’S WORLD - I'm annoyed because I didn't get my way. Call it sour grapes. Still, there is a point to be made about public service and the public benefit. Here's my story.
It starts with the fact that we will be having an event on September 23 which we call the Neighborhood Council Congress. The idea of neighborhood council participants getting together and sharing their concerns has been around since before there were neighborhood councils, but we never seem to get it right. Yes, there is a meeting called the Congress, but there is little in the way of discussion of controversial issues -- for instance, the demonstrated criminality on the City Council.
I'm not saying that the Congress should be nothing but negative, but there should be a chance for a broad spectrum of voices to make themselves heard. I wanted there to be a thread devoted to political reform -- but the Congress planners won't let it happen.
The Congress spends a lot of your tax dollars, ostensibly to provide a meeting for the broad and diverse groups who are the neighborhood council participants. Among us, there are plenty who would like to discuss and push for change in our city government. Instead, we get pablum.
There will be lots of presentations and breakout sessions about the everyday operations of the neighborhood councils, as if anybody who has been on a board for more than six months needs to know how to find the bathroom. You can get teaching about how to run a committee or what the LAPD Senior Lead Officer does, and all that sort of thing. I think of it as teaching you how to write on the blackboard with proper penmanship, and then how to properly erase the blackboard.
Yes, it will be like the sixth grade. Or you might say that it's a slavish attempt to kowtow to the city's establishment. So if you want to hear something about "Participation 101: Volunteering with Volunteers," the congress has what you are looking for. Or perhaps you want to spend an hour and a third doing a postmortem on the recent neighborhood council elections. There will be a session just for that, even though we just had a well attended online session on exactly the same thing.
What isn't there going to be?
There is a whole world of real-world problems that are intentionally being covered up.
How about a public discussion of the corruption on the City Council -- by this time well established in the courts -- in the form of bribery, extortion, and perjury? None of that will be discussed.
How about a discussion which allows a few conservative voices to talk about city government salaries and how they create a long-term structural deficit?
How about a serious discussion about folding the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment into some other agency? There are very good reasons for doing so, as the recent scandal over the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council made clear. Or, as I would argue, that the department is largely a waste of your tax dollars.
By the way, I proposed that we have that discussion on abolishing DONE as one of the breakout sessions. I was turned down cold. The planners wanted no back talk from us about the problems that DONE represents.
No wonder I've got sour grapes.
Here's what you can have: You can attend a session on "Outreach Tools + Engaging with Stakeholders," whatever that might be about, and it's being presented by people from DONE. Really.
By the way, this is not to attack the DONEsters who will be presenting. It's just that this is supposed to be our Congress, and not DONE's. Don't we get enough of DONE's interference at our regular board meetings?
Please note that the price for hosting all the feel-good stuff and the presentations that are intended to make us better volunteers is that you won't get to hear any bad stuff about the government. Funny, I thought that one major role of neighborhood councils was to evaluate city government in all its aspects, and then to communicate our findings.
One more topic that won't be discussed at the Congress
Some of you may remember a recent column I wrote about how the City Council rejected a highly qualified nominee for the city's Ethics commission. If not, you can find it here. The City Council members spent 32 seconds taking up, considering, and rejecting the nomination, without debate or even a question.
The vote was a 14-0 insult to the City Controller, to the candidate, to all the neighborhood councils, and mostly to the idea of ethical government. You see, the nomination would have added a third person to the ostensibly five person Ethics Commission. The No vote means that as of now, the Ethics Commission has no quorum (having only two members) and therefore cannot hold meetings or take action.
The day after that scandalous vote by the City Council, I called the elected chair of the neighborhood council Congress, and suggested the following: "If you have any cancellation for any breakout session, then give me the time and I will hold a breakout session exploring that terrible vote by the City Council, what it means to us and what we can do about it. My first invitations will go to the nominee and to the members of the L.A. City Council." I guess the planning committee isn't interested in having an airing out of this topic, because I've never heard back from them.
Might I also suggest that if the Congress really wanted to, it could find an extra room for us to have this discussion. They did that in a previous Congress.
So apparently we're not supposed to be concerned about not having an Ethics Commission, or about having 4 current and former members of the Los Angeles City Council with serious criminal indictments (one now out of prison, one about to go to prison, one yet to be tried after doing a plea deal and then pulling it back, and one yet to be arraigned).
We won't talk about whether the L.A. Building and Safety department might be a wee bit suspect.
And, interestingly, I won't get to ask the City Council members how they knew to vote in concert to reject the neighborhood councils' nominee. What was the secret signal that City Council members got in that 32 second blip, the one that told them to vote unanimously against the public interest?
Lots of questions, and no chance to ask them.
But if you like, you can attend a session titled, "New Social Contract" or, if that is not to your taste, how about "Aim UP -- Truth and Reconciliation."
I've been keeping one example for now. Remember where I reminded you that there is, as of this moment, no functioning Ethics Commission because the City Council turned down the nominee who would have provided the quorum? Well, you can hear about what that Commission might be doing, if there were such a commission and if you would like to attend either of the following sessions.
"Ethics Commission: Transparency". That's one session.
Ethics Commission: How NC's Can Fight Corruption." That's the other session.
To borrow a phrase from Megan Rapinoe, "This is a sick joke."
There are, I would submit, substantial questions that some of you might like to hear about. You have been denied that chance.
But there is always "How to Work With City Departments" if you want to learn your place.
Sorry if that last remark sounds a bit much, but City Departments should learn to work with us.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)