After a contentious debate over the evening’s hot-button topic, the board of directors of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council decided Thursday, August 13th to postpone a resolution that would have prevented board members who have not completed conflict of interest training from voting on agendized topics of discussion.
Two members in particular, Fred Waltman and Brett Flater, strenuously objected to the motion, stating that they believed that it could be against the board’s bylaws.
“I’m not sure that we can do this,” said Waltman, who did not offer which provision of the bylaws prohibited the proposal.
Neighborhood Council Vice President Marlene Savage presented the motion because council President Mark Redick was the resolution’s author.
The executive board of the Del Rey council decided to bring the proposal before the full council on August 6th after learning that many members had not taken ethics training, which is a compulsory requirement to serve on any city-sponsored commission or elected position, including a neighborhood council.
Both Redick and Savage referenced an August 6th Argonaut news story that revealed that the vast number of members of neighborhood councils have not completed mandatory conflict of interest courses. Less than 40 percent of the neighborhood councils within The Argonaut coverage area have taken the training course, which is offered in person and online, according to Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) records. At the time of the meeting, six out of the 15 Del Rey members had completed the training, not including two who passed the course on the day before the board met.
“Ethics training is mandatory,” Redick reminded the board. “It’s not a suggestion, it’s a commandment.”
The Venice Neighborhood Council passed a similar resolution last month that will prohibit any member who has not been certified in conflict of interest training from voting on land use and financial matters before the council. Seventy percent of the Venice council has complied with ethics training.
The Del Rey proposal stated that anyone who had not completed the training by September 10th, the date of the next meeting, would not be allowed to vote on any action items that come before the board. It would have allowed for the reinstatement of a member’s voting rights upon completion of the mandatory training.
Rosa Arcadia, who is the DONE liaison to Del Rey, confirmed that at a March 16th meeting, her agency offered an ethics training course on April 25th, five months after the new board members had been elected. Redick, Savage, Stephen Knight and Michael Stafford completed the training. John Buckley and Gerald Crouse had taken earlier courses.
Redick circulated a letter from DONE General Manager Bongwan Kim that explained that the training was mandatory and that a board member has one year to complete the ethics course.
Redick mentioned that a number of residents had addressed the board earlier that evening about plans for Glen Alla Park and they deserved to know that their council did not have any outstanding conflicts.
“We have people who came here tonight about their concern over an issue. What kind of people are we to sit here making decisions when more than half of us have not taken ethics training?” Redick asked.
“Do you really want people who have not complied or taken the time to follow through with ethics training on the council? Do people who elected us really want us voting on issues like land use, finance or another important issue that affects them?”
Redick proposed extending the deadline from September until December if the council agreed to vote on the resolution, but Flater vigorously protested that as well.
Waltman admitted that he had been putting off the training and should have completed it by now, but adamantly objected to having his right to vote denied because of his lack of compliance.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” he said. “There’s no provision in our bylaws that says that someone can be suspended from voting for not attending ethics training or not being allowed to vote on an issue because there might be a conflict of interest.”
Flater, the board treasurer who completed his ethics training the day before the meeting, seconded Waltman.
“I agree 100 percent with Fred,” he said. “I think that it’s a clear violation of the bylaws.”
Flater then suggested that the board pass a resolution supporting DONE’s conflict of interest rule.
Redick countered that the council could pass the resolution before it and later amend it if DONE disallows the motion.
“If DONE tells us that we can’t do it, then we can always amend the motion,” Redick recommended.
The council president argued that at some point the entire council could be placed in jeopardy if one or more members were to take action on an item and later be found to have a conflict.
“If we don’t comply, we are facing a cutoff of money down the road,” he warned.
Flater was undeterred in resisting the motion that would prevent those who have not taken the training from voting.
“I was elected by my constituents to serve their needs, and I’m concerned about the precedent that it would set if the resolution were passed,” he said.
Savage and Redick appeared frustrated with the arguments against passing the motion.
“I hate to say this, but I get the sense that if this motion were not on tonight’s agenda, I have a feeling that we wouldn’t have seen a few people rush through at the last minute (to complete their training),” Redick said. “So you see, up to a certain point, it has achieved a purpose.”
Board member Theresa Luo agreed.
“I think that if you hadn’t put the motion on the agenda, I don’t know if a lot of people would (have considered taking ethics training),” she said. “So you had to do it this way.”
Savage said that there have been discussions about DONE sanctioning neighborhood councils in the near future that have members who have not complied with conflict of interest training.
She also chastised those who argued against the resolution.
“We have been embarrassed by The Argonaut for having only 40 percent of our board in compliance with ethics training,” Savage told the council. “Are you proud of that? Don’t you think that everyone of us should take the ethics training?”
At that point, Stafford recommended tabling the motion until next month.
Luo assured her fellow council members that she would take the ethics course.
“Whether we pass the motion or not, I’ll do it,” she told Redick. “I understand what Fred is saying, but I understand why (Mark) had to do this.
“I think that you’re both right.”
Afterwards, Redick said that he was not disappointed that the motion did not pass, although he was dismayed that Flater and Waltman seemed reluctant to address the lack of compliance with the mandatory edict from DONE.
“This is something that we had to do,” he said. “And as a council, we should be judged by a higher standard.
“Character is about what you do when no one is watching.”