By Gary Walker
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa revamped what one high-ranking board member thought was an integral part of its bylaws May 9.
Vice President Mark Redick’s motion to amend the council’s bylaws that would allow the board president to remove a member who has not taken ethics training within three months after being sworn in passed unanimously.
“If we’re not compliant with the training, we shouldn’t be voting… period,” said board President Cyndi Hench.
The Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, as well as the City Council, mandates that all members of neighborhood councils pass conflict of interest training every two years.
The rules change is not retroactive.
In addition to the restructuring of the rules pertaining to ethics training, another board member spoke of additional changes to some of the seats on the council, which some feel were created specifically for certain local and business interests when the board was certified a dozen years ago.
Craig Eggers told the council that he believes some seats cater to businesses interests.
“I think that as an advisory council we have an obligation to periodically review our bylaws and standing rules,” Eggers told The Argonaut after the meeting. “I see advisory councils as a living organism and sometimes things change.”
Redick said few if any of these representatives bring any seat-specific interests to the board. “How many times have we seen an agenda item for the express benefit of senior citizens?” he asked.
Eggers said that as part of a continuing conversation, he would like to consider the possible elimination or renaming of all of the special interest seats.
The Westchester-Playa neighborhood council has several seats apportioned for what some on the council and in its local communities believe represent specific special interests, unlike other local boards in The Argonaut coverage area.
Venice, Mar Vista and Del Rey have similar officer positions on their councils but the remaining seats are at-large or residential seats that represent a certain neighborhood or area. Westchester-Playa has three seats for business directors, one income property seat, one position each representing senior citizens and religious organizations, a service club seat and one seat each for Los Angeles World Airports and Loyola Marymount University.
Ironically, Westchester residents are currently engaged in a fierce battle with the last two entities and have openly discussed litigation against the airport agency and LMU.
Redick thinks the special board seats should be eliminated in time for the 2014 neighborhood council elections. “To some people, (having special interest seats) looks exclusionary, not inclusionary,” he said.
Playa del Rey resident Marcia Hanscom is one such person. She thinks the positions were created with the express purpose of catering to local business interests.
“These seats were mostly used historically to help pad the board with people who were allies of Playa Vista, (the LAX) Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce and LAWA, while still ‘appearing’ to be showing some sort of diversity of interests,” asserted Hanscom, the executive director of the environmental group the Ballona Institute. “Most of us were not fooled.
“If I, for example, would have run for the seat for the community organization, I imagine some sort of challenge would have been made.”
Hanscom expressed a sentiment that many in “lower” Playa have for years: that the board is not representative of the interests of those who live and work on Culver Boulevard and the surrounding neighborhoods below Pershing Drive.
Terry Marcellus, a former member of the local council, thinks no harm can come from taking a look at how the board is configured.
“When we were first certified, my impression was that in our standard Westchester-Playa way of being inclusive, we brought in everyone,” said Marcellus, a former education committee chair. “But I certainly think it is an interesting and legitimate area to reexamine.”
Hench said it would be better to address any possible changes in board seats and their descriptions next year, in large part because almost all of the seats on the council are currently occupied.
“Changes of that magnitude would require a lot more discussion,” she said.
Redick disagrees. “We need to start fleshing out these ideas before next year,” he countered. “I think we should have another conversation about this within the next 30 days.”
Eggers agrees with Redick. “It’s a longer process than just a few meetings,” he said.
The change to the portion of the council bylaws on ethics received a unanimous vote.
Hench announced that she thought the entire board was now in compliance with ethics training. But that is a recent occurrence.
Several members have been voting after their conflict of interest certificates have long expired, including some who have been on the local council for two terms or more.
The Argonaut published an article before the Oct. 28 neighborhood council elections where it detailed how several officeholders at the time in Venice, Westchester-Playa, Del Rey and Mar Vista asked for their constituents to return them to office again but had not taken the city’s online conflict of interest course.
Four incumbents ran for reelection to the Westchester-Playa council last year who were not in compliance with city-mandated ethics training, according to DONE: Thomas Flintoft, David Voss, Geoff Maleman and Andrew Kamm. The certificates of all four expired in 2011 and they all passed the online course again late last year except Flintoft, who took the course again in March.
Hench, Sybil Buchanan and Nora MacLellan have been among the most consistent board members in complying with ethics training.
Redick, who took his ethics training upon being appointed to the council and prior to last year’s election, said there was no legitimate reason for allowing the training to lapse for more than a year.
“It’s inexcusable and unconscionable,” he said. “There’s no excuse for the failure to comply with this (city mandated) law.”
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester-Playa, was dismayed upon learning that there were members seeking reelection who had not taken ethics training when he was told last October. “For me there’s no excuse (for not to take ethics training),” he said.
He offered voters in his district advice when they went to the polls last year.
“I urge my constituents not to vote for any (incumbent) who has not taken ethics training,” the councilman asserted.
Redick said he was “stunned” to learn that there were members of the board who were out of compliance and ran for reelection in October. “I would urge my friends and neighbors not to vote for someone who has not complied with ethics training,” he said, echoing Rosendahl.
The new bylaws also state that in the case of seated members, they can be removed if they are out of compliance with ethics training for three months.