By Gary Walker
A conversation that began in May about what some members of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa call “special interest seats” and what to do with them has accelerated in recent weeks due to a new dynamic that has come into play.
Neighborhood council Vice President Mark Redick broached the subject May 16 of eliminating certain board positions that some on the council and some of their constituents believe exist for the sole purpose of catering to a specific entity or organization.
“To some people, (having special interest seats) looks exclusionary, not inclusionary,” he said.
Redick and board member Craig Eggers had anticipated having discussions about what to do with these seats prior to the 2014 neighborhood council elections, which were set to occur next summer. Those elections have now been moved to the spring, shortening the time period to decide whether or not the special interest seats should remain in place before the elections, Redick says.
“This now increases the sense of urgency,” Redick said.
Those who support an overhaul of the number of seats on the local council say that next year will be too late to talk about the possible changes on the board and are asking to begin deliberations on this controversial matter soon.
The Westchester-Playa council has three seats for business directors, one income property seat, one position each representing senior citizens, community organizations, youth organizations and religious organizations, a service club seat, an education seat and one seat each set aside for Los Angeles World Airports and Loyola Marymount University.
That is approximately one quarter of the seats on the local council, which at 31 is among the largest in the network of neighborhood councils in Los Angeles.
Nora MacLellan, who is a member of the Westchester-Playa council, thinks the idea of having fewer board seats has merit. “At first glance, I think it’s a good idea,” said MacLellan. “I think our board is too unwieldy.”
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council has 11 members, while the Mar Vista Community Council is comprised of 13 board seats and the Venice Neighborhood Council has 21.
“I look at these other neighborhood councils that have fewer members and they seem to get a lot more done than we do,” added MacLellan, who said she is willing to listen to the argument for reducing the number of board seats and its counter argument.
Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench says the aforementioned seats are held by residents or people who are recognized by the city as being eligible to hold them.
“By definition, what some are calling ‘special interests’ are arguably included in the city’s definition of ‘stakeholder,’” she said.
Redick said his idea of dissolving the special interest positions on the board is not designed to oust those who occupy them.
“I want to be fair to the current occupants of those seats,” he said. “They would still be able to run for office, just not under the current designation.”
One possible reconfiguration would be to convert some of those seats into area positions by ZIP code, which is how the existing business director seats are arranged. Others would be eliminated outright.
Redick said that he would like to see a committee assembled in the near future to outline in detail how the board could be restructured.
He noted that the city Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, a subset of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the city agency that supervises neighborhood councils, recently approved a request from the Mid-Cities West Neighborhood Council to reduce its seats from 45 to 35.
Asked if she felt any urgency to begin discussions about the seats in question now that the neighborhood council elections have been moved up, Hench responded, “The urgency that I feel is for us to get a better understanding of what a neighborhood council board should look like versus a homeowners association.”
MacLellan has noticed there are frequently more members of the council than attendees to the monthly meetings and she thinks doing more outreach to non-members would improve participation. “I would rather see fewer board members and more community members on our committees,” she said.
Another reason Redick would like to see certain seats eliminated is because he thinks that it would allow the council to function more efficiently.
“It’s not just the size of the board; it’s about bringing more accountability to the council,” he explained.
The local council recently amended some of its governing guidelines, so MacLellan does not see any potential problems in that regard.
“We’ve had two recent bylaw revisions. If we can do that, why can’t we consider (eliminating certain board seats)?” she asked.
Hench said she plans to invite DONE General Manager Grayce Liu to the council’s next meeting Tuesday, Aug. 6.