Saturday, March 15, 2008

High Drama at Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council

There’s a saying about voting with your feet. President Joe Gatlin and his allies took the phrase literally at the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council meeting Tuesday, walking out to prevent a vote on a controversial bylaws amendment.

Passions flared – and feet marched – over the proposal to revise the way the council elects its officers and formulates its meeting agendas.

Currently, the council president and four other officers are directly elected by the voters. The new bylaws shift that job to the full council board, so that voters go to the polls to elect all 17 board members to basic seats on the council. Then the board, in turn, elects its officers.

The second major amendment removes from the executive officers the sole power to create agendas. Instead, an agenda meeting would be held and all board members who attend would have a vote.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the bylaws decision was not just a matter for the board members.

There were dozens of people at the meeting to claim their stake in the debate and their vote counted, too. Every person represented by the council – that is, the council’s constituents or “stakeholders” – was eligible to vote.

As bylaws committee chair Ray Burch completed his report and the vote neared, board opponents figured that they were outnumbered and left the meeting in an attempt to thwart a lawful vote.

Six board members – Isaiah Alexander, Oliver Buie, Pam Foster, Larry Henderson, Benetta Johnson, and Myra Perez – walked out.

When the board vote was called, Gatlin was in the room in a side conversation with a city official, but quickly exited when he realized the vote was underway.

At least nine of 17 board members must be present for the board to conduct business. This threshold was satisfied when the discussion began, so the vote was allowed to proceed.

In order for the bylaws change to pass, two-thirds of constituents (“stakeholders”) present needed to vote in favor. After more than an hour of debate and testimony, those in attendance voted 52-4 to approve the amended bylaws.

The council’s next step is to submit its revised bylaws to the city for approval. Proponents are hoping to get a response before the council’s April 8 meeting.

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