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Can DONE Threaten Neighborhood Council Stakeholders?

EASTSIDER-Today’s tale involves a stakeholder named Richard Hopp.

Mr. Hopp, for reasons of his own, decided to check out all of the City of Los Angeles websites including those of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and 99 Neighborhood Councils. He was looking for broken hyperlinks (link rot) on the DLANC website (the Downtown LA Neighborhood Councils.) 

According to this Neighborhood Council’s prior website, they did this to “move to an awesome new website” with a dot.com. 

Anyhow, Mr. Hopp started checking out the awesome new website for broken hyperlinks, aka “link rot” in the trade. Shockingly, he discovered a whole lot of them, and then had the temerity to contact the Neighborhood Council, asking that they fix the problem. 

So ok, why Mr. Hopp was interested in doing this is his own business. I am unaware of any law or statute which makes it a crime to check out hyperlinks and look for broken links. In fact, my occasional perusing of EmpowerLA’s efforts with their own website would indicate that anything they do in this area needs adult supervision. 

Holy Moly, Batman! 

After a bunch of ins and outs, Mr. Hopp’s inquiries prompted the following response from DLANC’s President, one Patti Berman: 

“On Tue, Feb 16, 2021 at 11:21 AM <patti.berman@dlanc.com> wrote:

Mr. Hopp, 

I forwarded your email to our Webmaster. His response is below. I have copied our attorney and our NEA on this response. Please do not force us to take any legal action: 

This line of inquiry is of no merit and actually prompts some inquiry into their intentions and motives. 

  1. How did this person seek to attain access to these files? 
  1. And to what end do they claim necessity to those files? 
  1. The only way to do so would be to attempt to hack the website or go into “ inspect mode to view source files” 
  1. These are plugin files that have nothing to do with the public, and rightfully are protected by Wordpress and other brute force services running in the backend to specifically stop unwarranted access to the files 
  1. Furthermore many of the files are part of custom CSS and JS codes and theme files with particular attention to image files therewithin that have nothing to do with the public or operation of the website from the standpoint of a visitor. 
  1. I would strongly advise some sort of legal threat to that person as their intentions seem malicious and demonstrate a clear intention to hack into the website and or gain access to files they have no permission too. Or worse yet, an attempt to sabotage the site. 
  1. This would be akin to a thief calling you up and asking for the keys to the safety boxes inside the vault as specified in the blueprint of the bank. With the first foolhardy error being their revelation that they have tried to access the blueprints in the first place. Never mind the ludicrous request for keys for the boxes.

 

         Patti Berman

         President

         Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council”

 

So far, we have a private citizen, who is not a Neighborhood Council Board member, but who is simply using the internet in a perfectly legal manner and sharing the results of his (free) labor with the appropriate City entity. 

DONE, or the NC in question, has a range of responses to his finding. They can ignore it, say “thank you very much,” receive and file, or (gasp) actually do something about fixing the problem. It should be pointed out that Reseda Council Board member Jamie York (JamieY@resedacouncil.org) received Mr. Hopp’s concern and immediately began correcting and testing each link and scheduled an AD HOC Website Committee to address free access and content issues. 

Personally, given the pathetic excuse for a website at Empowerla.org, I doubt that the Department has the technical ability to even know what he’s talking about, much less fix it. And I have reason to believe that in the event Mr. Hopp applied his attention to that website, he’d have a field day. 

So, let’s parse this poop. First, who is DLANC’s webmaster? Is it a DONE employee, or is it somebody they hired, being one of the few NC’s who could afford to do so? Second who is their attorney? Again, is it a City Attorney? If so, who? If not, who? 

Further, by copying “our NEA” on the matter, we know for a stone fact that DONE is directly involved in this so-called advice.  

Thus, the header of this article. I would be really, really interested to know under what theory of the universe DONE thinks their staff can make unsubstantiated threats to a stakeholder who is silly enough to live in the City of Los Angeles. 

Since they went there with the threats, and it appears DLANC has waived attorney-client privilege, I have submitted a CPRA request to unmask the names and positions of the webmaster and the attorney referred to in the NC President’s email.  

By the Numbers 

1) “This line of inquiry is of no merit and actually prompts some inquiry into their intentions and motives 

So I guess the hundreds of thousands of internet geeks who do stuff like checking out bad code (code verification) in websites are a bunch of subversives? C’mon. If DONE honestly thinks their website and the NC sites need to have cybersecurity to protect their precious secrets, buy some. 

2) “And to what end do they claim necessity to those files? 

Excuse me? If no one can play with the internet and its websites without some provable “necessity,” then there would be no internet. Mr. Hopp simply catalogued the broken links and informed the City about them. So what? 

3) “The only way to do so would be to attempt to hack the website or go into “inspect mode to view source files 

Define “hack” -- besides the implied aura of criminality you impugn to Mr. Hopp. And thanks for the tip on how to do it. 

4) “These are plugin files that have nothing to do with the public, and rightfully are protected by Wordpress and other brute force services running in the backend to specifically stop unwarranted access to the files” 

Again, thanks to the tips from someone who actually cares enough to play with your site. As to the rest, I assume that since the public paid for this website, they have some interest in the website which they paid for. 

5) “Furthermore many of the files are part of custom CSS and JS codes and theme files with particular attention to image files therewithin that have nothing to do with the public or operation of the website from the standpoint of a visitor.” 

This strikes me as misleading gobbledygook. The reality is that this is a public paid for website, and nothing in the item has anything to do with the issue at hand. Other than an inference that the public should not be trusted. 

6)  I would strongly advise some sort of legal threat to that person as their intentions seem malicious and demonstrate a clear intention to hack into the website and or gain access to files they have no permission too. Or worse yet, an attempt to sabotage the site.” 

Here’s where the rubber hits the road. A clear and unambiguous threat from a public agency employee or employees to sue a resident of the City of Los Angeles without one iota of evidence or other proof of intent. Not to mention the statement of “sabotage.” 

Since DLANC’s “attorney” was copied on this drivel, it seems to me as a country boy that, maybe just maybe, the bar association might be invited to have a chat with them. 

(7)” This would be akin to a thief calling you up and asking for the keys to the safety boxes inside the vault as specified in the blueprint of the bank. With the first foolhardy error being their revelation that they have tried to access the blueprints in the first place. Never mind the ludicrous request for keys for the boxes.” 

As an avid reader and writer, I can only say that the author of this observation might have a future in writing science fiction. Mr. Hopp never expressed credentials for any City of Los Angeles website; just advised something was broken and verify as needed. 

The Takeaway 

I would like to publicly thank Patti Berman, as President of DLANC, for forwarding this document from DONE (or whomever). Absent her straightforward sharing of the document, DONE would never have had their real words disclosed. 

As to the substance and content of DONE’s actions, where the hell is the oversight of these people? Certainly, the General Manager was absent in the exchange, or worse, complicit. And the NC City Attorneys were copied (unless DLANC has their own) and did nothing. Are there any adults in the room? 

Someone sure needs to take a look at this matter. It can’t be BONC, because they have no authority over the General Manager. Technically, the only person who should be exercising some minimal oversight is Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appoints the GM who in turn serves at his pleasure. 

As a final note, personally I have always had a special place in my heart for public servants -- be they elected officials or managers within the bureaucracy -- abusing their position to attack those that they allegedly serve. It’s a rotten thing to do and a violation of their oath of office. 

It is curious that here we have the smallest Department in the City (created as a defanged outlier by Charter, to support volunteer unpaid Neighborhood Council Boards in keeping City Hall honest) finds it necessary to attack the very public they were set up to help. And their General Manager, charged with this support of the public, is clearly responsible for allowing this mess. 

Anyone who would like to contact Richard Hopp regarding broken hyperlinks, you can reach him at mail@mrhopp.com 

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.