Wed, Jul

DONE Done Screwed the Pooch


ACCORDING TO LIZ - Names have been omitted to protect the guilty. Board members and Neighborhood Councils are anonymized because there are just too many in similar positions to give them all credit.

This is a story about people who think they are in charge of Neighborhood Councils and too often fail in their obligations by not listening to those who can provide the solutions.

If the Mayor can find a new General Manager that can cure that culture, it will mean a huge step in the right directions for Neighborhood Councils in Los Angeles.

The City needs to buy in as well. Neighborhood Councils’ Board and Committee members are not slave labor to be used as needed and then ignored. Most are hard-working Angelenos who care deeply about our City looking to make a difference for their families, their neighbors and Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and all other City departments AND the City Council must STOP disrespecting them.

All we are asking is that that those who are supposed to help Neighborhood Councils: do your jobs on a timely basis. Answer our calls and listen to our concerns. After all, our taxes are paying for your offices and your phones and your cell phones.

What obligations are DONE tasked with under the City Charter and ordinances?

  • to empower the Neighborhood Councils
  • to maintain a list of facilities suitable for Neighborhood Council meetings that City departments are supposed to offer free of charge
  • to assist, not subvert, Neighborhood Council elections

City Councilmembers, General Managers and many other City employees make well into the six figures and by-and-large work bankers hours.

People who work on Neighborhood Councils have jobs that in many cases require longer hours and harder work for far less pay.

They have personal lives with lots of challenges, especially if they don’t bring down the salaries our taxes pay those employed by the City.

And then they trot off to do their Neighborhood Council work which is not just a two-hour meeting once a month.

It’s committee meetings, it’s scheduling events, it’s writing proposals, it’s problem-solving when things go awry.

It’s tracking down what went wrong when the Community Impact Statement that people spent time listening to stakeholder concerns, drafting and rewriting and submitting does not get read or even received by the City Council.

It’s taking on all the additional obligations the City Council and DONE have lumbered them with over the years so they have little time left to address the important issues, the ones they want to bring to the City Council as set forth in the City Charter.

It’s working together and establishing City alliances to address issues that involve all of Los Angeles.

It’s making the effort to help each other and the City – everything from peer support to having goats keep down the undergrowth to reduce fire hazards. And being told that nothing can be done because the unions consider their suggestions and offers of help as attempts to deny union employees the work that “belongs” to them.

Do Board members sound like people who have the leisure time to be ignored? To make endless calls to City Council staff to set up meetings only to be blown off at the last moment? To keep calling and following up when the staff at DONE and in other departments do not do the work they are paid to do?

For example: Trying to find a way for bills to get paid after the fiscal year ends to avoid the wasted expense of late fees.

From a Funding Representative at the Office of the City Clerk: “Hello out there. Does anyone in the xyz Neighborhood Council have access to the funding portal? I received the attached office expenses that should be pushed through the portal as payment requests. Kind Regards”.

No response. Not a peep or a whisper. Neighborhood Council funds are frozen at the City Clerk's Office, and because no-one has access, nothing can be done. My Deep Throat source advises that the Neighborhood Council has no Treasurer and many more invoices they cannot submit to even commerce the torturous journey through the payment process.

Earlier this year, the Mayor expressed shock that Neighborhood Councils, even though the money had been budgeted and was available, were being forced to not pay their bills and incur late fees due to bureaucratic idiocy.

Neighborhood Councils should be able to pre-approve expenditures at their last meeting of the fiscal year to be paid with rollover funds.

It would be simple to arrange in advance to prepay known and recurring with existing funds even if invoices have not been submitted. After all, that is the intent of having and approving a budget in the first place.

If the City Clerk and DONE want cast-iron documentation, the use of purchase orders has been common practice in the business world for decades. They don’t require invoices – just an estimate or an itemization of recurring payments.

And DONE's own ineptitude further compounds the problems.

Only DONE can call the first Board meeting after a Neighborhood Council’s election. Should be simple, right?

But, no.

What happens when the DONE Rep invites the outgoing Board instead of the new one?

Oops. No quorum, no meeting.

The Board has to meet before a new Secretary can provide a roster to DONE.

And DONE hadn’t seen fit to supply anyone with the e-mail addresses of winning candidates who were not previously on the Board.

To approve bill payments, they need to be present and a proposed budget needs to be on the agenda that must be posted three days prior to the meeting.

No quorum? Can’t approve payment.

Not on the agenda? Can’t approve payment.

With this level of DONE incompetence, people tend to resign. Leading to an even greater risk of not achieving quorum.

Chances are that those who resigned might include someone designated or qualified to be Treasurer. Yikes. Another month’s delay at least.

And then there is the training involved to get a treasurer up and running, and able to navigate the portal to initiate those payments...

By the time a meeting can actually be convened, will there even be enough Board members to elect officers.

And then the Board will need a quorum to elect replacement members...

Variations on the foregoing play out across the City on a daily basis. Issues range from lack of translated materials to sabotage by City Councilmembers, from nonsensical bureaucracy to disruptive attendees, from top-down imposed “trainings” to a lack of training about what they really need to know.

Where are the forces of DONE who should be charging to the rescue, and empowering the Neighborhood Councils? AWOL.

More recently and far more disturbing, when contacted about the possibility that a recently appointed board member was a registered sex offender who had served 13 years in prison for abusing a young woman while on duty as a school resource officer, the City Attorney’s office seemed more concerned with protecting themselves from liability if sued by this ex-felon than protecting Board members and stakeholders.

And DONE’s reported response was that they welcomed the formerly incarcerated. Come again?

Eleven of the Board members have since resigned in protest.

In fact it seems like DONE is a key part of the problem and is going out of its way to destroy the Neighborhood Council system one Board at a time.

Perhaps when the next elections roll around there won’t be enough Neighborhood Councils left to justify the expense of a Department of do-Nothings.

Or maybe, just maybe, the new Mayor will appoint a new General Manager for DONE who will reverse the downward spiral of the Los Angeles experiment in neighborhood democracy and win back the hearts and minds of Angelenos.

(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.)