The head of the municipal department that supervises Los Angeles’ 95 neighborhood councils said recently that the advisory boards are required to be in compliance with the rules that govern them and could be investigated if any regulations were broken.
The Argonaut recently questioned Department of Neighborhood Empowerment General Manager BongHwan Kim about an incident that led to the resignation of Mar Vista Community Council Chair Albert Olson. While Kim did not specifically address the Mar Vista incident, he did clarify that neighborhood councils should not take actions that their bylaws do not permit.
“We would expect that all neighborhood councils follow their bylaws,” Kim said.
Olson resigned at the community council’s Nov. 8 meeting after he sought to appoint attorney Yvette Molinaro, a Mar Vista resident, to an at-large director’s seat on the board. According to Mar Vista’s bylaws, only residents, as well as those who work or own property in the community, are eligible to occupy an at-large director seat.
Additionally, the chair has the sole authority to interview and nominate candidates for a particular seat.
In an interview with The Argonaut, Olson said that a board member who voted against Molinaro told him that after Molinaro did not obtain the necessary votes to be appointed, he was expected to nominate Chelsea McFarland, who also applied for the at-large director’s seat.
The appointment process does allow the chair to nominate a second candidate if the first is not chosen. But it does not permit the chair to go “down a list” of candidates if the first nominee is not selected, as Olson said the board member suggested to him.
Under Section Six, the vacancies area of Mar Vista governing guidelines, it states, “In the case of a vacancy, the chair shall appoint a stakeholder to fill that vacancy.”
After interviewing McFarland, Olson said he determined that she did not qualify for the at-large director’s seat because she did not satisfy the requirements of a stakeholder. But he believed that as a factual basis stakeholder, which is a person who “affirms” a stake or interest in a neighborhood, she could serve in another capacity, such as on the council’s green committee.
McFarland, who resides in Del Rey, runs a nonprofit organization, Honey Love. The organization’s mission is the protection of honeybees and it is attempting to establish urban beekeeping in residential neighborhoods.
The community council voted to support a pilot beekeeping project the night that Olson resigned.
Kim said if someone were appointed to a seat that violated the council’s bylaws, DONE would investigate the claim.
“If it were reported to us, we would certainly look into (the allegation),” the general manager said.
Section Nine of the community council’s bylaws states that a board member can be removed for, among other things, “violation of (Mar Vista Community Council) bylaws.”
This year, DONE gave all neighborhood councils a template to follow for crafting their new bylaws but it does allow some flexibility for each individual advisory board.
With three vacancies, the Mar Vista board now has 10 current members. According to its bylaws the council must have seven members present at each meeting, so any more than four absences could create another set of problems for the board.
“Each board is allowed one cancellation per quarter (due to lack of a quorum),” Kim explained. “Any more than that can be grounds for decertification.”
Most neighborhood councils have set aside one seat for factual basis stakeholders, who can hold elective office. Alex Thompson occupies Mar Vista’s factual basis seat.
In a letter to his former board colleagues, Olson wrote that he felt the appointment process had been compromised and he saw no other choice except to resign.
“It has become clear to me that this process will become even messier if I continue down the only path that I can in good conscience pursue, that is, the nomination of the candidate I have already put forward,” the former chair wrote. “Because of this, I am hopeful that my resignation will defuse some of the problem, and allow Ms. Molinaro – or some other equally qualified candidate – to take their rightful seat on the board.”
First Vice President Sharon Commins will serve as first vice president/interim chair until further notice.
DONE has been moving toward granting neighborhood councils greater authority to sanction their own board members for transgressions.
In 2009, the Venice Neighborhood Council – with DONE’s backing – approved a set of sanctions for members who do not take the mandatory ethics training required of all officeholders. According to the Venice council’s bylaws, any member who does not pass conflict of interest training will not be allowed to vote on financial matters.
The Venice council has a provision in its bylaws that allows the board to appoint its officers through a different process than Mar Vista’s.
“Vacant board seats shall be filled by a majority vote of the remaining elected officers,” states Paragraph Four, Section G of the Venice council’s bylaws. “Officers selected in this manner shall serve as board officers until confirmed or replaced by election by a majority vote of the voting members present and voting at a subsequent election meeting to be held not less than 30 days nor more than 90 days following the selection of said officers.”
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa does not have a bylaws or rules and elections committee.
“It’s more of an ad hoc committee, not a standing committee,” Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench explained.
Like in Mar Vista, the Westchester-Playa council president unilaterally decides on board appointments and the council must confirm them by a two-thirds vote, according to the council’s bylaws.
At the Mar Vista Community Council Elections and Bylaws Committee’s Nov. 20 meeting, the committee considered a directive from the council to review policies and procedures regarding the appointment of board members and the election of officers and report back to the council’s executive committee Monday, Dec. 5.
Molinaro, reached at her law firm, declined to comment on whether she would apply again for the at-large director’s position. McFarland did not return calls for comment.
Hench said Westchester-Playa’s appointments have thus far been relatively problem free. “Our (level of controversy) is pretty low compared to other neighborhood councils,” she quipped.
Commins will announce Olson’s vacancy at the Dec. 13 meeting, which will initiate a candidate search to replace the former chair. She also said she plans to appoint someone for a seat vacated in October by Tara Mulski.
Commins did not disclose if the board would consider new or the same applicants for the at-large director’s seat. “We’ll see who applies during the next period,” she said.