By Doug Epperhart
At Tuesday’s meeting to set the May agenda for the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, I was told in no uncertain terms that “outsiders” (like me) should not be stirring up trouble.
Central President Joe Gatlin, Vice President Mayra Perez and Secretary Pam Foster-Newsom forcefully pulled the welcome mat from those of us who would require them to follow the rules.
I don’t live in the Central area, but then neither does five or six board members, including Foster-Newsom.
Some of these board members are O.K. with ignoring the law. I guess that makes them “insiders.”
Others, who aren’t so easygoing about breaking the rules, have been targeting by Gatlin. His attempt to oust board members Sue Castillo, Kara McLeod, Dan Pasley, Bill Roberson and Carrie Scoville was shot down by the city attorney. Consider them the “outsiders.”
The fact is the charter of the City of Los Angeles says if you live, work or own property within the boundaries of a neighborhood council, you are a member or “stakeholder.”
The city council added to this definition by including everyone who “declares a stake in the neighborhood and affirms the factual basis for it.”
These laws make no distinction among classes of stakeholders.
It’s the clear intention that all have the right to participate in the council’s activities. Legally, there are no neighborhood council “outsiders” – only stakeholders.
I understand that Gatlin and his allies don’t like to be held accountable, but the Central council is not a private club where they get to choose the members.
To succeed, councils must not only be inclusive, but also transparent.
At the March and April Central board meetings, a stakeholder videotaped the proceedings. Some board members made an issue of the camera’s presence, claiming the board could refuse permission for the taping.
California’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, says otherwise.
Anyone may make an audio or video record of any public meeting or take still pictures. The Brown Act applies to neighborhood councils.
I understand that most Central board members have never received training on the Brown Act or other regulations that are supposed to govern their conduct.
So, there’s no reason they should know the law. But, why be bothered that someone would record their meeting? What do they have to hide?
Maybe the real problem with the Central council is that many board members – starting with the president – don’t understand the fundamental nature of representative democracy.
Maybe they don’t see that getting elected to a neighborhood council – or any other political post, for that matter – doesn’t confer rights or even privileges.
It confers obligations, to fellow board members and stakeholders. It is the duty of the elected to follow the rules that ensure the rights of all, even those they don’t like.
Doug Epperhart is a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council governing board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.