15
Mon, Jul

Testing the Limits of the Neighborhood Council System at the Highland Park Neighborhood Council

THE EASTSIDER - Most of the HHPNC meetings I’ve attended have been run by the President without too much attention to good old Roberts Rules of Order, but the one on June 6 was crazy enough to be from another planet. 

DONE’s staffer John Darnell attended the Meeting in person.  While I am told DONE has done this with multiple NC’s, it still seemed a bit unusual to me. But was nothing compared to the five (5) page small print Meeting Agenda. 

The first pages were the usual Call to Order, and approve a NC budget, but towards the end of the agenda were three items that were doozies - 

  • Item 15, Motion to approve Request for Action re: Council member De Leon  and Hernandez’s assistance in expediting District Attorney Gascon’s Conviction Integrity Unit review of CASE BA141155, Antonio Chavez and Jose Beltran 
  • Item 16, Motion to Approve creation of Social Justice Ad Hoc 
  • Item 17, Motion to approve Request for Action inn support an LA City Council Ceasefire Resolution 

I hate to point it out, but the purpose of our Neighborhood Council System, as enshrined in the LA City Charter, reads thus: 

“Sec. 900. Purpose. To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs, a citywide system of neighborhood councils, and a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is created. Neighborhood councils shall include representatives of the many diverse interests in communities and shall have an advisory role on issues of concern to the neighborhood.” 

Going back to the three motions, these three issues are evidently a big deal to some of the HHPNC Board or its President, but I fail to see any connection to a large segment of the neighborhood that wants their Neighborhood Council weighing in to tell 2 City Council Members to try and overturn a successfully litigated criminal case. 

Similarly, creating a Social Justice Ad Hoc Committee for Highland Park which as proposed has no parameters is a far reach.  And I’m not real sure that an advisory body has the jurisdiction to submit a “Request for Action” to the LA City Council urging them to have the City Council wage in on a “Ceasefire Resolution” in the Middle East. 

The Meltdown 

For whatever reason, President Angela Gonzales Torres bypassed the regular order of things and leaped into whether or not to take “DISCUSSION/POSSIBLE MOTION for items 15, 16, and 17 first. However, DONE’s staffer John Darnell notified that Item 15, the motion to try and get a reversal of a final criminal case involving Antonio Chavez and Jose Beltran, was beyond the jurisdiction of a Neighborhood Council. Duh 

Then President Angela Gonzales Torres asked the Board to vote to in effect bypass the regular order and decide whether or not to take up Item 17, DISCUSSION/POSSIBLE MOTION, Motion to approve Request for Action in support of an LA City Council Ceasefire Resolution 

the Chair immediately bypassed all the regular items on the Agenda, including voting on next years Neighborhood Council Budget. This without a motion or asking any of the Board members to speak. 

And Then...

Basically, it all went to hell. We were way beyond the functioning of a Neighborhood Council, and spent the rest of the time (the venue closes at 8:30) having a loud vocal number of attendees talk about how they felt about a Ceasefire Resolution to be sent off to Israel and Hamas to impose a Ceasefire in the war.. 

I won’t go into the discussion in any detail, since the Neighborhood Council ran out of time as most speakers were  having a great time weighing in for or against asking the LA City Council to vote on a ‘City Council Ceasefire Resolution.” In fact, it was about the only ‘business’ the President allowed, to the detriment of the Highland Park community. 

What did happen is that 8:30 came around, the Senior Center staff said they had to close the facility, even as almost no regular business enumerated in the Agenda ever took place. 

For the curious, a large majority of the speakers seemed to be in favor of the Motion. It did not appear that most of these people were regular attendees of the NC.. 

Oops!

Lost in the midst of this glorious political discussion, the Chair neglected to ever go back and start/complete the regular order of business in the Agenda. 

There might have been a Call to Order and Roll Call taken, but I don’t remember a Motion to Approve the Agenda (Item 3), and after that, there was only one Item that took place; that was Item 4(b), a report from the LAPD, whose officers had to stick around until the very end to share their information. 

What did not happen was a Treasurer Report, or Item 9, a Motion and discussion over approving the 2024-2025 Budget for the HHPNC. 

So if my recollection is correct, there is no 24/25 Budget approved, and the Council has no money. Right on. 

The Takeaway

I must admit, in all my years meandering around the various Neighborhood Council meetings, this was a First.  I found it crazier than a SDS rally at UC Berkeley in the late 60’s. And that is saying a lot. 

Instead of my usual takeaway, I’d like to share a letter from one of the attendees who summed up the meeting better than I can: 

“Dear Mrs. Guevara,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to bring to your attention a concerning matter that I observed during the Highland Park Neighborhood Council Meeting held on Thursday, June 6. As a concerned member of the community, I feel compelled to alert you to the repeated instances of unprofessional behavior exhibited by the President of the Council, Angela Gonzales-Torres.

Throughout the duration of the meeting, I witnessed numerous incidents where the President failed to adhere to established protocols, and instead resorted to insulting, degrading, and unfairly admonishing other council members. This behavior not only detracted from the productivity of the meeting but also created an uncomfortable and hostile environment for those in attendance.

Of particular concern was the President's very personal and reckless decision to proceed with an agenda item that had been moved to be struck by other council members due to its violation of the Brown Act. Despite clear explanations by John Darnell, Neighborhood Empowerment Advocate, regarding the potential consequences and the opening of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council to formal grievance complaints, the President proceeded with her own agenda.

As someone who has actively participated in various city council and governing body meetings, I can confidently state that the conduct displayed by the President of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council was unprecedented and highly concerning. It is my sincere belief that such behavior is not only detrimental to the effectiveness of the council but also reflects poorly on the integrity of the entire organization.

It is evident to me that the President may be pursuing her own agenda at the expense of others, and her actions are indicative of someone who is unfit for office. It is imperative that immediate action be taken to address these issues and ensure that all members of the council adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and respect.

I respectfully urge you to investigate this matter further and take appropriate measures to address the behavior of the President. It is essential for the integrity and credibility of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council to uphold the principles of fairness, transparency, and accountability.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I trust that you will take the necessary steps to address these concerns and restore confidence in the governance of our community.” 

(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.)