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Neighborhood Alliance Tackles Rule Confusion

Neighborhood Alliance Tackles Rule Confusion By JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter Taking its first formal action since its formation in December, the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils is trying to clear up confusion over some fundamentals of the council process election procedures and identifying who is eligible to be a member. The alliance, formed in December to provide networking opportunities for board members from the Valley’s 34 neighborhood councils, took the action this month in a letter to the city Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). The alliance is requesting that DONE hold a public meeting in the Valley to clarify election procedures for council board seats and also provide more detailed guidelines for identifying stakeholders in the Neighborhood Council process. Alliance co-founder Jill Banks-Barad of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council said some councils, still in the early stages of formation, are being given conflicting information about election procedures and fear running into difficulties similar to ones that caused turmoil in the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council board elections earlier this year. DONE is currently attempting to resolve the Van Nuys dispute, in which winning candidates are being accused of campaigning near the polls and allowing individuals from outside the council district to vote. “On the one hand you have DONE saying you are a council and you can hold your elections the way you see fit, but when they come up with their election procedures DONE comes along and says you can’t do that,” said Barad. “And, the rules for determining who can vote in a council race are murky because first of all there are no guidelines describing what gives a stakeholder legitimate status. How do we know elections aren’t being run by people with political agendas who don’t live or work in the area but want to control a council board. We don’t even know if we have the right to check their ID.” According to Greg Nelson, DONE’s general manager, the agency offers a published election guideline booklet for councils to use as a model. But he added that DONE prefers not to get involved in elections unless there is a conflict, such as in Van Nuys, or if laws are violated. He did concede that the process for identifying stakeholders does vary widely, but he indicated that the councils are free to manage those issues as they see fit. “We take a hands-off approach unless laws are being broken,” said Nelson. “All of those details on holding an election are up to the councils themselves. Most of the councils don’t really bother with ID. They typically will just have people sign a statement under penalty of perjury.” Ignoring advice Nelson said he’s found that neighborhood councils tend to run into problems when they fail to follow DONE guidelines and advice. “Whenever a council writes their bylaws and guidelines, we tell them early on why they might be wrong,” said Nelson. “And, a lot of times some of the people running these elections get rather stubborn. You can talk and you can explain and they don’t want to hear.” DONE had hired the League of Women Voters to resolve the Van Nuys election dispute, however, the group recently decided that it was too complicated to pursue. Nelson said the Neighborhood Legal Service of Los Angeles, based in Pacoima, will now attempt to resolve it. Jim Leahy, who served as interim board president of the Van Nuys council said he first presented the group’s voting procedures to DONE back in October of 2002 only to have them rejected three times, delaying the election until February. “The council’s voting procedures have been a moving target for DONE for several months now,” said Leahy, who did not run for a permanent seat on the council board. Leahy agreed that council election guidelines need clarification. He also said there is a strong need for a group like the alliance because younger councils often look to established councils for advice. Having one group provide a uniform set of answers will help councils avoid controversies and get on with the business of representing their communities. “A lot of us have been acting on faith that the information we were being given from DONE was accurate, but we are finding that it’s not always the case,” said Leahy. “There’s a breakdown of sorts between DONE and the councils and it’s leading to confusion.” Nelson said DONE was prepared to have the meeting, as requested, and is doing everything it can to clear up some of the confusion over election procedures, including rewriting its election guideline booklet. “Sure, we love meetings, we’ll go,” Nelson said. “And of course we are always interested in clarifying the rules because we know that anything we do may be subject to a lawsuit or challenge.”

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