Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry was the featured guest of the Venice Neighborhood Council at its Nov. 15 meeting and in true Venice tradition, she was confronted with a series of challenging questions.
One of the topics raised was the looming postponement of the elections next year for neighborhood councils, a proposal from the Los Angeles City Council that has generated a great deal of concern and resentment among longtime observers of the advisory councils.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office is in the process of crafting a new municipal law that would delay the 2012 neighborhood council elections until 2014 in order to save money as city leaders have begun to look at next year’s budget priorities.
The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the city agency that supervises neighborhood councils, previously ran the elections for its now 95 advisory boards until the Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office took over the duties in 2010.
Ivan Spiegel, the Venice council’s parliamentarian, asked Perry, who is seeking to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2013 election, if she would oppose the proposal.
“Would you be willing to make the commitment to not postpone the elections and not extend the terms of the current board members and return grassroots democracy to the city?” he asked.
The councilwoman responded, “I will tell you this: I will keep an open mind.
“I haven’t made a decision on it.”
Spiegel asked Villaraigosa the same question at a Sept. 12 community forum hosted by the mayor.
“This ordinance is going to come before you for your signature when it comes out. Will you be willing to veto this and allow grassroots democracy to come back to the city?” Spiegel asked the mayor.
Villaraigosa responded, “Let me go on record by saying I believe that we should have an election.
“I’ll weigh in now and let them know that I don’t like that idea and that they’ve got to give me something else,” the mayor added to applause from the audience.
Perry said she would like to talk to City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, about the matter as well. “I want to talk to Bill about it and I want to hear what our chief administrative officer says about it,” she said.
The councilwoman asked Spiegel if the proposal was due to financial concerns, and he responded that it was.
“When we want to put things on the ballot, we are often told that we can’t put things on for a cycle, a year, whatever,” Perry said.
Rosendahl agrees with Spiegel and the mayor. “I don’t think that it should be postponed,” he said of the elections. “We should be able to run them with volunteers and a few people who are trained in election procedures.”
The Venice council approved a resolution by board member Ira Koslow at its Oct. 18 meeting opposing the City Council’s plan to cancel next year’s election.
“(The Venice Neighborhood Council) requests that the Los Angeles City Council immediately draft and pass an ordinance that provides temporary suspension of Section 20.36 of Division 20, Article 1, Chapter 3 of the Los Angeles Administrative Code requiring the city clerk to conduct neighborhood council elections during the months of April, May and June of each even-numbered year,” the motion stated.
Perry said she chose her words carefully not because she wanted to be evasive but because she did not want to make a statement that night without thinking the matter through and obtaining more input.
“I don’t have very high regard for people who say things when they’re in a particular crowd and then say something else when they’re in another location,” she explained.
Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks said she was grateful for Perry’s honesty.
“She didn’t commit one way or the other,” Lucks noted. “I would have been more pleased if she told us that she would vote against the ordinance, but I respect her honesty.”
Spiegel and others who oppose postponing the elections cheered the remarks of an influential City Council committee chairman regarding any possible delay in the elections until 2014.
“I oppose this draft ordinance because it is clearly contrary to the spirit of democracy that our neighborhood councils represent,” City Councilman Paul Krekorian said in a Nov. 15 statement.
“Extending neighborhood council board member terms until 2014 is unacceptable and it continues to be my goal to find a mechanism that allows residents to have a democratic process to select their representation on their neighborhood councils in 2012.”
Krekorian is the chairman of the council’s education and neighborhoods committee, which includes the local advisory boards.
West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Chair Jay Handal said Krekorian is one of a few members of the council who understands and appreciates the work that neighborhood councils do. Handal thinks the council has overreached by seeking to cancel next year’s elections.
“The public gets the fact that taking away the democratic process of democratically held elections is unethical,” Handal asserted. “(The City Council) has crossed the line in slapping the faces of neighborhood councils. They’ve gone too far.”
A task force that was created to address concerns that arose subsequent to the 2010 elections recommended implementing what its members view as a more flexible and cost-saving system, including employing what are known as independent election administrators.
The task force found that if the city clerk ran the election, it would cost nearly $1.2 million, not including voter outreach. When neighborhood councils conducted them under DONE’s supervision, they paid the administrators $800 and paid for their own election outreach.
Handal said the City Council has given DONE nearly $150,000 for election related matters, and the independent administrators could be paid for through existing city contracts.
On Sept. 24, the Congress of Neighborhood Councils unanimously approved a resolution asking the City Council and the mayor not to cancel the 2012 elections.
Perry said it was likely that she would wait until the proposed ordinance comes before the council before she decides which way she will vote.
“You’re welcome to call me the day before and talk to me about it,” she told the Venice audience. “I’ll probably make a decision the day before.”
Lucks said she has heard that there is a growing sentiment among neighborhood councils throughout the city that the ordinance is garnering less and less support.
“I think there is a strong consensus not to delay the elections,” she said. “My concerns are how we would pay for them and maintaining the integrity of the elections.”
Krekorian, who like Rosendahl is one of the City Council’s more vocal supporters of neighborhood councils, vowed to bring other city agencies aboard in his quest to prevent the elections from sliding into 2014.
“I will work with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the neighborhood councils, the mayor’s office, the city clerk and every other interested party to resolve this issue swiftly, transparently and responsibly,” he pledged.
The City Council is slated to hear the ordinance to delay the 2012 elections in December.