The fiscal crisis at City Hall has prompted Los Angeles city officials to consider a policy move anathema to a representative democracy: canceling elections.
The city's Arts, Parks and Neighborhoods Committee on Wednesday considered a draft ordinance that would amend the city's administrative code to postpone Neighborhood Council elections slated for 2012 and extend the terms of board members until a City Clerk-administered election is held in 2014.
The ordinance was called for as part of the city's 2011-2012 budget that faced a $350 million shortfall. Due to the fiscal crisis, the city did not provide funds for the City Clerk's office to conduct 98 Neighborhood Council elections scheduled for 2012.
The Arts, Parks and Neighborhoods Committee, which is chaired by City Councilman Paul Krekorian, objected Wednesday to postponing the elections and called for the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), which oversees the city's Neighborhood Councils, to run elections in 2012, said Jeremy Oberstein, a spokesman for Krekorian.
"DONE has a budget and they will conduct elections," Oberstein said.
The Mar Vista Community Council voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of a motion to call on City Council Members Rosendahl, Kerkorian and Koretz to introduce a motion to allocate funds so that the City Clerk can "conduct Neighborhood Council elections no later than Fall, 2012." Chuck Ray, an MVCC board member explained that it is likely too late to conduct elections this spring, but that since the city's fiscal year begins on July 1, it could potentiall allocate money for fall elections from next year's budget.
Sharon Commins, MVCC Chair, said, "Asking us to take more time to serve as volunteers and not giving community members the opportunity to vote is, I think unconscionable." Commins pointed out that the MVCC has "already amended its by-laws to conform to the city clerk's election schedule" meaning that some members have served a year longer than the term for which they were elected.
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council last week voted unanimously, 8-0, in favor of a motion opposing the cancellation of elections. The Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa last week also approved returning a survey to the City Clerk's office in which they said they were not willing to postpone elections until 2014.
Ivan Spiegel, parliamentarian for the Venice Neighborhood Council, attended the Del Rey meeting and said Venice representatives also were opposed to postponing elections.
Westchester/Playa board president Cyndi Hench said it would be disruptive to hold an election in 2014 for 100 percent of the board. The Westchester/Playa council in the survey said they favored contributing a limited amount for a 2012 election, namely 10 percent of their $40,500 annual budget.
Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, vice chair of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, sent an email to the Arts, Parks and Neighborhoods Committee on Wednesday stating that the "perpetuation of our democracy" via timely, funded and overseen elections was one of the primary purposes of city government and "not open to renegotiation or default."
"Imagine fighting across the seas for democratic processes and then cutting the budget to pay for them right here at home … who does that?," his email said.
The City Clerk's office has distributed a Neighborhood Council Election Alternatives Survey to all 98 neighborhood councils and they have a Jan. 6 deadline to return them. A survey for stakeholders also is available (see attached).
Future election options on the survey included: an independent election administrator that will be supervised by the City Clerk or DONE: DONE administering the elections: using a Town Hall Selection Process overseen by the Neighborhood Council or using the City Clerk. The survey also asked if Neighborhood Councils preferred a secret ballot or Town Hall-type selection with an open or public ballot.
Precisely how the elections will be run in 2012 remains to be seen, Oberstein said.
The City Clerk is expected to prepare a report based on the survey results in February that will be sent to the City Council, the Mayor's Office and the Arts, Parks and Neighborhoods Committee. The City Attorney's Office in November sent the City Council a draft ordinance (see attached) amending the city's administrative code to postpone the elections and extend board members terms for two years.