After a heated debate over setting term limits for the Neighborhood Council positions, the Studio City Neighborhood Council voted last week to do away with term limits for its officers.
The debate centered frankly on the dedication and perseverance of some of the local community members who have made such an impact in Los Angeles politics that they have become a model for Neighborhood Councils among the 94 other community groups in the city. If they follow their own by-laws that limit how long an officer can serve in the council, the question is who will take their places?
“Until I saw the work it took to do these jobs that no one else would do, I could not appreciate all the work these officers do,” said Steve Quat, one of the newest elected board members. “You don’t want people who are not people qualified to do it. That secretary over there takes the best notes, if we term them out we term out the most qualified for those positions. It’s like having rookies play in the all-star game.”
The all-volunteer Neighborhood Councils are unique to the large city of Los Angeles in response to allowing more community input to the 15 City Council members elected fulltime to hold office. The Neighborhood Councils are divided up by communities, and are elected within their communities for very specific positions, for example some communities even have a Homeless representative, and Studio City has representatives divided up by renters, homeowners, business people, student, service organizations and others, voted every two years (or so) by stakeholders who live, work and play in the area. The council is also responsible for doling out about $40,000 in city money that goes to community projects. In Studio City, that money goes toward things like the snow in Beeman Park, the the fireworks at CBS Radford Studios (where the meetings take place), the Luminaria, school projects, library programs, beautification projects and other community events. The councils are overseen by the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (or DONE) which also runs the elections in each of the communities.
The Los Angeles City Councilman representing the suburban Studio City, Paul Krekorian, who answers to a total of eight Neighborhood Councils, says: “The Studio City Neighborhood Council is often at the cutting edge and a leader among neighborhood councils. They are looked up to as the gold standard by councils throughout the city, and I am proud to have their invaluable input to my office.”
The issue of the term limits for the Neighborhood Council officers was brought up through a grievance filed by Richard Adams, a member of the By-Laws Committee and a longtime resident. Adams ran for Neighborhood Council and lost, and he applied for a vacant seat recently but was passed over for the spot by President John Walker. Adams said Walker, vice president Lisa Sarkin and secretary Rita Villa have overstayed their welcome by being in office for more than three years and pointed out “Our by-laws limit Board members to three, one year, terms in any particular Board office, with a mandatory one-year interval before they can once again hold a particular office.”
Walker said the Neighborhood Council did away with term limits more than two years ago, but that the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment that oversees the voluntary advisory Neighborhood Councils throughout Los Angeles “was slow in publishing it.” Adams disagrees.
“I don’t believe that office holders should be a lifetime position, and there should be some checks and balances,” Adams said. “Change is good.”
Walker, who is serving his third term as president, discussed the issue with the City Attorney’s office, and decided to add a motion to remove the officer’s term limits as stated in their by-laws, as the attorney’s office suggested. In May 2012, this Neighborhood Council voted out term limits for people running for the board, but it wasn’t clear if the same applied for the officers.
Jeff Carter, who voted against the ending of the term limits when he was on the board in 2012, spoke last week at the final Neighborhood Council meeting of the year and suggested that the president, vice president and secretary recuse themselves from voting because “they are in their positions illegally.”
Former board member Mark Batterman, who is a champion of local parks in the area, stood up and said, “I am in strong, strong support against the term limits because of the history of this board. It does not want term limits, and it’s not good for the community.”
Former board member Ron Taylor was president of the By-laws committee before he left, and has since moved to Los Feliz where he is active in the community. There, he says, “I have also found that there’s only a small circle of people who are civically engaged and has time and the willingness to be this involved. There is a larger circle who will get involved occasionally, but not to this extent.”
Studio City Residents Association member Barry Weiss said, “Term limits are not good. It’s hard for the community to find good leaders like this.”
Brandon Pender, who was voted off the council in the last election, suggested “This grievance was led by an individual who just wants to start trouble.”
Longtime treasurer Remy Kessler is also the longest sitting board member, more than a decade and pointed out, “I served well past three years as treasurer and this was never been an issue. Everyone here knew about it and should have known about it. The three officers should be applauded because no one else has stepped up to fill these positions.”
But present By-laws Committee chair Jane Drucker, also on the board, spoke against the way this motion superseded her committee. “Kudos to the three in these positions, however the process is totally out of line. It was not brought to the attention of the committee chair, and it looks like a grab to extend power. I am generally opposed to term limits, and I strongly think the officers involved should recuse themselves as per the ethics course we were all asked to take, and refer this back to committee.”
Another board member Denise Welvang spoke out against the motion, and said, “There are people in these positions who have overstayed their limit and if we don’t follow our own laws then what we have is anarchy.”
The three officers did not recuse themselves, and the changes in the officer term limits were approved with only two of the board members dissenting.
Check out the photo Gallery above for photos of the board meeting.
You can get involved in your Neighborhood Council by going here.