Members of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/ Playa del Rey have postponed the April election for the board of directors, saying they had no other choice due to requirements under recently instituted citywide election procedures.
Twenty-one candidates had filed to run for 11 open seats on the Neighborhood Council board of directors in this year’s election, which was originally scheduled for Monday and Wednesday, April 3rd and 5th.
But at a Neighborhood Council meeting Tuesday, March 7th, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) director of field operations Parker Anderson informed the Neighborhood Council that its required election procedures were not officially approved by DONE.
According to citywide election procedures that went into effect February 1st, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment cannot recognize any Neighborhood Council election unless its election procedures are approved 90 days before the proposed election date.
Council members said they were told that the situation occurred due to an error by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment in which department employees never processed the local council’s election procedures.
While council members said they had submitted the appropriate documents within the time prescribed and were compliant with department guidelines, the election procedures were not officially approved.
The situation forced the council to make a choice between either postponing the election or continuing with the scheduled election, which could potentially lead to decertification proceedings, council members said.
The Neighborhood Council voted 18-3 at a special meeting Monday, March 13th, to postpone the scheduled election to an as yet unspecified date, saying they had “no choice,” given the circumstances.
“We felt we had no choice because if we went forward with the election it would have been thrown out,” said Neighborhood Council president Gwen Vuchsas, referring to the requirements of the city ordinance on election procedures.
To ensure that the Neighborhood Council was not in violation of its own election bylaws, which state that the council must hold its election within the first 100 days of the calendar year, council members also voted March 13th to amend the bylaws.
The bylaw amendment states that the council “should make every reasonable effort” to hold the election within the first 100 days of the calendar year.
Prior to postponing the election, the Neighborhood Council appealed to Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl to put forth an “emergency motion” to exempt the council election from the city ordinance requirements, but Rosendahl said the motion did not meet the city’s standards to qualify for an exemption.
“We tried to look at every single angle to see if we could make this work out,” Vuchsas said of avoiding a postponement.
Although the council said it had no choice but to delay the election, some council members and election candidates expressed their frustration at the postponement.
“This is an incredibly frustrating situation, and no one is more frustrated than I am,” Neighborhood Council election committee chair Cozette Vergari said.
Neighborhood Council member Denny Schneider, one of 21 candidates who filed to run in the election, said the postponement “puts us (council) on hold.”
“There’s a certain amount of frustration and disappointment because it’s like running a race,” said Schneider, who voted against postponing the election. “You push for things when there is a goal line and now all of a sudden there isn’t. The biggest frustration is that we don’t know what the postponement means.”
Schneider and council member Robert Dalton also expressed frustration about the money already spent on the scheduled election relating to campaigning and community outreach.
Department of Neighborhood Empowerment officials said the Neighborhood Council will not be reimbursed for funds it has already spent for election outreach.
According to a Neighborhood Council news release titled “DONE error leads to postponement of election,” council members alleged that the “city bureaucracy and bungling by DONE has resulted in the postponement.”
Council members claim that Anderson of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment said the reason the election procedures were not approved is due to an error by the department that occurred as a result of a reduction in the staff members who review the procedures.
Anderson apologized for the error, but said there was no recourse but to postpone the election, the council release said.
In response to the council news release, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment general manager Greg Nelson said he contacted council members to inform them of the facts behind the situation.
“We will restate the factual aspects of this case with the hope that the NCWPDR [Neighborhood Council of Westchester/ Playa del Rey] governing board will focus its energy on planning an open, inclusive, fair and legal election,” Nelson said.
The Neighborhood Council had not responded to several official requests from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to amend the council bylaws and draft election procedures in the time frame for the citywide election procedures, Nelson said.
“Because the (council) has not submitted election procedures that satisfy our requests, our department was unable to approve their election procedures by the mandated deadline,” Nelson said.
The deadline for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to approve the Neighborhood Council election procedures was January 3rd, but Nelson said the council had not submitted all of the amendments by that date.
The department did not receive the council bylaw amendments until February 8th, more than a month after the deadline for DONE to approve the documents, Nelson said.
But Vuchsas asserted that the Neighborhood Council “followed the timeline” for submitting the election procedures and made the required amendments within the ordinance time frame.
“We did everything we were supposed to do,” she said.
The council initially submitted its election procedures in October and when council members were informed that an amendment was needed, they made the change and resubmitted the documents within the time frame, Vuchsas said.
“(DONE) does not have all of the facts straight and it’s an indication that the department is not being properly run,” Vuchsas alleged.
Nelson said trying to find out who is at fault in the situation is “a major distraction.”
“We are urging them (the Neighborhood Council) to focus on what they must do, which is to hold the election,” Nelson said.
The Neighborhood Council expects to hold the election sometime this year, Vuchsas said.
While the council has not yet determined the new election date, council members said they will inform the community as soon as the date is selected and are working to get the election “back on track.”