The Los Angeles
Neighborhood Council Scam
Neighborhood Councils were supposed to be Los Angeles' alternative to Valley Secession -- presumably to give Los Angeles' citizens more representation to city hall. Since neighborhood councils were created by the city council, they are legislative bodies, and must be in accordance to, and in compliance with Article IX of the Los Angeles City Charter, approved by the voters in 1999. The agency which was created to oversee the formation of Neighborhood Councils is the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (commonly referred to as D.O.N.E. or DONE).
The elected Neighborhood Council board members (typically there are about 20 board member positions in each of about 90 neighborhood councils), vote to determine how an annually funded $50,000 is spent.
Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Darren R. Martinez, a legal advisor for DONE, points out that according to Article IX of the city charter, the only requirement to be eligible to vote or hold office in City Certified Neighborhood Councils, is that you live, work, or own property in the neighborhood. This policy of "don't ask, don't tell" allows almost anyone to vote and run for office in city certified neighborhood councils. Can you imagine a cabal of felon gang members intimidating the community to get themselves elected to their respective Neighborhood Councils?
In spite of election restrictions delineated in Article IV in the city charter, Martinez says that Article IV does not apply to Neighborhood Councils, and that there are no restrictions in the city charter as to who CANNOT vote or hold office in neighborhood councils -- saying that such restrictions are determined only by the particular Neighborhood Council's by-laws. In other words, according to Martinez, if a neighborhood council's by-laws do not specifically prohibit minors, felons, fugitives, absconders, or illegal aliens, then they can vote or run for office in the Neighborhood Council. While Martinez decides what by-laws are legal, he does not pro-actively advise Neighborhood Councils what prohibitions to include in their by-laws.
When I asked Martinez if felons could vote or hold office in Neighborhood Councils, he said this:
"The people in your community create the rules that guide and govern your Neighborhood Council. Subject to not violating any laws, your community defines its direction, its internal operations, its goals, its procedures, its method for conducting elections, its governing structure, its voting structure, etc. These are your rules and the rules of your community for your Neighborhood Council. Your rules include your Neighborhood Council's Bylaws and Election Procedures. You and your community determined who would be a stakeholder and what rights would be granted to specific stakeholder classes in your community."
"You asked about the ability of "felons" to participate in your Neighborhood Council. For purpose of clarity, I will not use "felon" but instead use the term "rehabilitated person," which is a person that has been convicted of a felony, has served their time, and has been released back into society. Rehabilitated persons have the right to be free from arbitrary and unreasonable discrimination, and their prior felony conviction can not be used against them to deny them, on an unequal basis, the right to participate in their government. The determination of what rights this rehabilitated person may then have in your Neighborhood Council will depend on what rights you and your community granted under your rules. The rights that you and your community granted to the stakeholder class that applies to the rehabilitated person will define the rights of that person."
Shocked that Martinez actually thinks it's OK for felons to be eligible to vote and/or hold office in Neighborhood Councils, I asked him this question:
"If a Neighborhood Council's by-laws do not specifically prohibited it, could a registered sex offender run for a seat on that neighborhood council's board of directors?"
Martinez repeated his position confirming that registered sex offender were "rehabilitated persons." In other words, since registered sex offenders are felons, and felons are rehabilitated persons, they may vote and hold office in Neighborhood Councils -- unless of course, the by-laws which are created under Martinez' auspices, prohibit it.
The news got worse when I requested more "qualification" information from the city attorney.
The city attorney rubber stamps the Neighborhood Council by-laws. If Deputy City Attorney Martinez fails to warn the citizens of that they are creating questionable by-laws, then he is derelict in his job. As an example of the city attorney's indifference: there are no requirements for neighborhood council board member candidates to provide financial disclosures, there is no U.S. citizenship requirement, nor does the city do criminal background checks on them -- even though once elected, these office holders determine how their neighborhood council spends $50,000 / year of tax payer money (totaling more than 5 million / year for all the certified neighborhood councils).
On page eight of the Los Angeles Official Sample Ballot for the March 4, 2003 elections, put out by the Los Angeles Elections Division, it says "Lead or Join Your Neighborhood Council -- Help determine how your Neighborhood Council uses its $50,000 annual operating budget.
Do you suppose that the authors of the charter thought it was OK for just about anyone to determine how the Neighborhood Council uses its $50,000 annual operating budget?
One does not have to be a lawyer to conclude that the city attorney arbitrarily and capriciously declares that Neighborhood elections are not municipal elections and therefore don't have to comply with the election rules of California and the Los Angeles City Charter. According to Webster's dictionary, a municipality is defined as an area that is a city, town, or part of a city or town. Martinez doesn't think so.
Article IX (Department of Neighborhood Empowerment) starts out like this:
EC. 900. PURPOSE.
To promote more citizen (sec 900) participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs, a citywide system of neighborhood councils, and a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is created. Neighborhood councils shall include representatives of the many diverse interests in communities and shall have an advisory role on issues of concern to the neighborhood.
Notice the word "citizen." Do you suppose the authors of the charter meant something other than U.S. Citizens? Do you suppose that "diverse" means a mixture of citizens, non-citizens, illegal aliens, sex offenders, gang members, Islamic Terrorists...?
When the Charter was written into law with Ordinance 172728, then City Attorney Mayor Hahn decided to change the word "Citizens" to "people" behind the voters backs. When I asked Deputy City Attorney Darren Martinez to explain the discrepancy, he gave a spin job that assumes the public is stupid.
It is not likely that the authors of the charter intended the neighborhood council boards to determine their own qualifications. Nor is it likely that the authors of the charter would have left out what would disqualify someone from voting or running for office.
As a matter of fact, the authors did not leave anything out.
From Article IX (Department of Neighborhood Empowerment)
"...The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment shall have the duties and responsibilities set forth in this article and elsewhere (sec 901) in the Charter to implement and oversee the ordinances and regulations..."
It didn't say, elsewhere in the Charter except the part about who can vote or run for office.
Article IV (elections) doesn't define Neighborhood Council elections as not being municipal. Article IV doesn't say "for election rules, please refer to each of the neighborhood council's by-laws."
Article IV makes it clear who can or can't vote or run for office. Many in the community wonder why the city attorney doesn't see it that way.