Carol Baker Tharp has been selected by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after a nationwide search to be the new general manager of the city Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), which oversees the city’s Neighborhood Council system.
Tharp is deputy director of the Civic Engagement Initiative at the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development.
The appointment must still be approved by the Los Angeles City Council. Tharp is expected to begin serving as general manager Monday, March 12th.
Tharp, who has spent 20 years working in Southern California communities, will take over for interim department general manager Lisa Sarno, who has served the position since former general manager Greg Nelson retired in April.
City of Los Angeles voters approved a new city charter in 1999 that mandated the creation of the Neighborhood Council system to promote public participation in city government and make the government more responsive to local needs.
The Los Angeles City Council approved the plan for the Neighborhood Council system in May 2001, and 87 certified Neighborhood Councils have since been created. Each of the city’s certified Neighborhood Councils receives $50,000 in annual funding.
In announcing Tharp’s appointment Monday, February 26th, the mayor called her a “proven leader, scholar and community servant.”
“Throughout her professional career and years of community involvement, Carol Baker Tharp has remained committed to the belief that civic engagement is a vital element of democratic governance,” Villaraigosa said. “Carol’s experience and expertise make her the most qualified person for this position.
“She will work to empower our Neighborhood Councils to serve residents across Los Angeles while providing necessary structure and oversight to the department.”
Tharp called her appointment as Department of Neighborhood Empowerment general manager “incredibly exciting,” saying it would allow her to put to use her experience of working with community issues over the years.
“I’ve been thinking about these issues and working on them since the 1970s,” said Tharp, who added that she worked with neighborhood councils in Eugene, Oregon while serving as the city’s community relations director.
Tharp said she also gained experience through her work at USC, where she has helped create an academic center devoted to the study and research of neighborhood participation.
“Now I’m going back into the neighborhood and will be able to put all that experience and learning back to work, and it feels so right,” Tharp said of the general manager position.
Villaraigosa has also appointed BongHwan Kim, a member of the Neighborhood Council Review Commission, as the new assistant general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.
Kim is the executive director of Pasadena Neighborhood Housing Services, where he is responsible for managing and directing program development for the organization, which works to provide affordable housing to low- and moderate-income families in the San Gabriel Valley.
The USC Civic Engagement Initiative, of which Tharp is currently the deputy director, released a report late last year that focused on ways to improve the effectiveness of the citywide Neighborhood Council system and made various recommendations.
Among the findings of the report were that Neighborhood Councils are not “descriptively representative” of the social and economic diversity of Los Angeles residents, and many of the councils struggle with outreach and infighting.
As the new Department of Neighborhood Empowerment general manager, Tharp said she and department officials plan to work with community members to help them achieve their goals for their community.
“A lot of what we will be doing is listening to the people,” Tharp said.
The department will also plan on finding more ways to increase publicity about the Neighborhood Council system, she said.
There are many different groups that are looking at how to improve the system, including the Neighborhood Council Review Commission, the city controller’s office, which has issued an audit of the system, and the city Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, Tharp said.
“I’m coming in at a time that’s rich with good ideas,” she said.
Tharp previously served as executive director of Coro Southern California, a leadership education organization.
She currently teaches a course on citizenship and public ethics to USC undergraduates and leads seminars on developing civic engagement in the university’s leadership programs.
Tharp received her bachelor’s degree in speech, communication and theater arts from Wake Forest University and her Ph.D. in political science and religion from Claremont Graduate University.