Vision and Values

 By Charlotte Laws

I see the 912 Commission’s “Vision and Values” as a simple and somewhat flexible guide for what the perfect Neighborhood Council / NC system would look like, rather than as an involved and complicated document. Details will come later, after reviewing research findings, listening to public comment and engaging in an intense debate. I think the Commission should agree (if possible) upon the basics, then move on to the more substantive issues.

The perfect Neighborhood Council would…

1. Be open and inclusive.

2. Keep the community apprised of meetings and issues. Meeting notices should be posted on the NC website and at one location within the community

3. Be a voice for the constituency, not withstanding that this voice may not be in accord with current opinions of city councilmembers, the mayor and city department heads. It is a prime function of NC boardmembers to keep the city apprised of constituency views and be able to explain divergent insights.

4. Have access to boardmember education.

5. Make a sincere effort to let all members of the public who want to speak on issues, do so, even when it might become necessary to extend time beyond that which is normally reserved for public comment.

6. Encourage stakeholders to join committees

7. Whenever possible, let stakeholders head committees on issues they are passionate about.

8. Meet at least once a month.

9. Behave in a civil, respectful and organized manner.

10. Have information available on issues before them. 

11. Be accessible to the public. Boardmembers should provide their email address, and the council should provide a contact phone number.

12. Have an easy-to-use website that allows for ENS-type announcements / mailing list sign up.

13. Spend their money wisely after input from the community.

14. Communicate and sometimes partner with other neighborhood councils.

15. Join umbrella organizations, i.e. LANCC, Alliance, DAW.

16. Act as a centralized force for community organizations and individuals in the area.

17. Agree to have conflicts resolved by a Dispute Resolution Commission. There should be one commission per planning area to hear and rule on disputes. A City Attorney representative should be present at meetings to advise about legalities. The Commissioners would be chosen by the NCs.

18. Have somewhat standardized bylaws and election procedures and only alter these documents when absolutely necessary. (i.e. to change election dates, etc.) This is important so stakeholders and boardmembers do not become confused about “the rules,” so DONE does not waste valuable time pouring over changes & reviewing vastly different documents, and so meeting time is not consumed with disputes over procedures.

19. Always be ethical, adhere to the Brown Act and fill out Form 700 (or a less stringent disclosure form that will keep potential conflicts of interest at bay).

Neighborhood Councils Citywide….

1. All areas of the city should have representation by a Neighborhood Council. A group of people may vote to “opt out,” but this is not say that everyone in that community would want to be excluded from the Neighborhood Council system. 

2. There should be a Congress once a year to allow for education and the coming together of people from different areas.

3. There should be extensive training available to Neighborhood Councils. Classes should include: a) parliamentary procedure & how to run a meeting, b) accounting/treasurer duties, c) ethics & conflict of interest, d) the Brown Act, e) the Executive Board (how it works), f) the election process, g) political efficacy & how the city works, h) outreach, I) how DONE & BONC work, j) the Grievance Process & the Dispute Resolution Commission. Boardmember education should be available online, by videotape and in classroom settings.

4. The City should provide administrative and outreach support for Neighborhood Councils. They city should handle bookkeeping, provide updated websites for NCs, and advertise the NCs in periodic mailings. 

5. DONE should be an advocate for the NCs and always ready to assist them. 

6. The NCs across the city should have somewhat standardized bylaws and election procedures. This allows stakeholders to know where they stand (i.e. whether they qualify to vote or to run for the board) without embarking upon a detailed investigation. A stakeholder should not have to guess whether he or she is a stakeholder in a particular community. A stakeholder should not have to guess whether he or she needs identification for an election or what the election procedures are.

7. The NCS should hold their elections on the same day (or on one particular day for all councils within a planning area) and allow absentee ballots. This will lead to increased NC publicity and greater stakeholder participation.

8. The NCs should be permitted to submit council file numbers when an issue has been approved by three or more neighborhood councils. 

9. The Neighborhood Councils should be notified well in advance of motions made by their Councilmembers. 

10. Procedures should be put in place to assure that Neighborhood Council decisions are properly acknowledged by the City Council, the Mayor and City Departments.

11. Major land use projects should automatically be sent to the impacted NC(s) for review and consideration before going to the Area Planning Commission and the City Council.

12. In 7 years, a commission should be selected to evaluate implementation of the current commission’s findings. (This should  in no way detract from the hard work of the current commission or from their effort to get the details right.)