Conflicting stories and increasingly sharp rhetoric between current board members of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council and a former council president have risen to a fevered pitch since an audit of the council’s finances was requested earlier this month.
Past president Mark Redick sent a letter to the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), BongHwan Kim, July 13 requesting an investigation into the finances of the local council after it was revealed that the board’s fiscal assets had been frozen.
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric Desobe and the council’s treasurer, Brett Flater, stated in a prior interview that the funding was suspended because of an election challenge during citywide neighborhood council elections in April.
However, Kim told The Argonaut that DONE placed a hold on the council’s budget due to a failure to submit petty cash statement transactions and other financial information to the city department.
Kim said on Friday, July 23 that his department has since received Del Rey’s financial statements and its funding has been unfrozen.
On July 8, Flater told the council the matter had been resolved.
“As of today, that’s been corrected,” he told his colleagues. “All of the documents have been completed and I’m verifying that with the city.”
Redick has said in previous interviews that a perceived lack of fiscal transparency by Flater could engender distrust from Del Rey citizens.
“When you have someone who operates under a cloak of secrecy rather than in an open era of transparency, how can you expect the people of Del Rey to trust anyone that won’t be open with them?” he asked.
Flater said Redick was the president during the period when the funds were put on hold and as such, shares in the responsibility for the funding freeze.
“While I wish to move forward with the business of the council, I have no choice but to respond to the baseless commentary made by Mr. Redick about the incoming Del Rey Neighborhood Council,” Flater wrote in a recent letter to The Argonaut and Del Rey community members. “Mr. Redick had considerable authority to address any issues of transparency while he was president.
“During his last year as president of the (local council), Mr. Redick established an audit committee. As chair of that committee, he never once called the committee into session,” the treasurer continued.
Flater said Redick removed him from the committee and installed another member, whom he did not name.
“The only lack of transparency about these public proceedings is that the minutes of this meeting were never submitted to the council for approval, which was the
responsibility of Mr. Redick and the chair that he appointed,” Flater claimed.
Redick pointed out that as treasurer, Flater is responsible for financial reports and managing the council’s funds.
“He is the custodian of all financial records,” Redick, a hotel executive, noted. “If he had been an employee of mine, I would have fired him on the spot.”
Flater said Redick “attended the committee meetings, publicly approved all items I presented, and subsequently signed off on all expenditures and the quarterly reports.”
Flater also took umbrage to Redick’s statements about the past president’s attempt to prod the council to comply with city mandated conflict of interest training last August.
“As for the issue about the ethics training, Mr. Redick’s statements are untrue. The minutes of the public meeting reflect the actual discourse, which was that multiple members of the board stated Mr. Redick’s motion was unnecessary and potentially against the bylaws of the council,” Flater wrote. “At no time did I, or any member of the council, deny the need for all members to pass ethics training as soon as possible. Likewise, not one single member of the board supported Mr. Redick’s motion.”
At the August 2009 meeting, Redick, who had taken conflict of interest training in 2008, sought support for a motion to bar council members who had not taken their required ethics training from voting on financial matters before the board. The Venice Neighborhood Council had passed a similar resolution a month earlier, with DONE’s backing.
An Argonaut investigation found that less than 30 percent of Westside neighborhood councils at that time, including Del Rey, had completed ethics training.
Flater, who had taken the training hours before the meeting, and former board member Fred Waltman led the argument against the motion, citing possible bylaw infractions.
Gerry Crouse remembers the meeting differently than Flater.
“I supported the motion, as did (former board members) Marlene Savage and Steve Knight) and others,” said Crouse, a current board member.
Flater disagreed with a past statement Redick made regarding what the former president calls a lack of transparency by the treasurer.
“There is not a ‘dark cloud’ over the new council,” Flater contends. “Any suggestion that there is should be equated to the decisions made by the past president.”
Flater was also disturbed about a quote by Redick in an earlier news story, which paraphrased former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings regarding former President Richard Nixon’s knowledge of the infamous scandal.
“I think the question should be: what did the treasurer know, and when did he know it?” Redick asked, referring to the date the council’s funding was put on hold.
The treasurer asserted, “Mr. Redick’s comparison of an oversight by a volunteer citizen to the Nixon presidential crimes demonstrates real contempt for this neighborhood council and extreme disrespect of the efforts provided by the thousands of residents in the 90 neighborhood councils.”
Redick disputes any contempt for his community and says there are parallels to the Nixon scandal.
“Mr. Flater has engaged in a pattern of deception, he has lied about his actions to Del Rey and then engaged in a cover-up,” Redick alleged. “Donald Segretti (a Nixon operative known for running a campaign of political ‘dirty tricks’) would be proud.”
New board member Thomas Kielty said his colleagues are striving to take a different approach than the prior board and are still finding their way in their first month as board members.
“The Del Rey Neighborhood Council is undergoing a radical change to a more open and community-centered approach,” Kielty said. “I am confident that any growing pains we encounter as we shed the old guard will be overcome, and I will continue, as second vice president, to be a representative voice for my community.”
Other members of the council were less diplomatic than Kielty in their views on Redick’s past comments.
The Argonaut obtained an
e-mail from first vice president Elizabeth Zamora, who accused Redick of having a vendetta against Flater and questioned his motives in requesting an audit.
“I am sorry that you have become the target of what is obviously a personal attack by means of these Argonaut articles. Many people have contacted me to opine that Mr. Redick’s personal hangups are palpable in his comments from the article,” Zamora wrote.
“Most people feel that Mr. Redick’s comments apply only to his lack of leadership because all matters pertaining to the (Del Rey Neighborhood Council) before July 8 were under his watch,” Zamora, who was elected to the board in April and did not take office until this month, continued. “Ultimate and final fiscal oversight was the responsibility of the president. But the reality is that the journalist was not able to offer any evidence about any lack of disclosure or wrongdoing — that’s because there is none.”
A letter from Kim in June states, per an April information bulletin, “the entire board shares the fiduciary responsibility for the expenditure of public funds.”
Crouse, who served with Redick, Flater and DeSobe, took issue with what he views as Zamora’s ad hominem and personal verbal assault on Redick.
“I didn’t like the attacks that she wrote about Mr. Redick,” Crouse said “I think that she owes him an apology.”
Zamora, who was elected on Flater and DeSobe’s slate, also suggested that Redick, one of the founders of the council, was seeking to stay in the public eye after he decided not to seek reelection this year.
“If you hear or read anymore empty diatribe about this matter from Mr. Redick or his cronies, just consider it the last futile attempt of a petty individual who is clawing to remain relevant,” she said.
Zamora also added a postscript for DeSobe.
“Eric: I respect your request to manage the media inquiries of this matter.”
Crouse said he did not like that DeSobe, as Zamora appeared to indicate, was attempting to “manage” the media or speak for the entire board with respect to media inquires, a practice that Redick did not encourage.
“I can speak for myself and I don’t think it’s right that Mr. DeSobe is doing this,” he said. “No one speaks for me.”
The council president said he only asked the council not speak to the media as board members and did not intend to silence anyone.
Like Redick, Crouse said he supports the financial probe and believes an audit would allow the new board, if the results showed no financial impropriety, to move forward.
“If there’s nothing to hide, why should they be worried?” he asked. “I think it’s a reasonable request.”