Why we should eliminate “Constituent” categories.

Charlotte Laws

I understand NCs like to have the freedom to make decisions about board composition, but I think there are serious drawbacks (and a fundamental unfairness) if we leave things as they are. We need to give NCs freedom, yet at the same time, they should have some parameters.

A. Allowing vastly different NC bylaws leads to confusion, difficulty determining whether one can participate in a NC (as a boardmember or voter), and this confusion results in less overall participation.

Because there are different NC bylaws, a person currently has no idea whether he or she “qualifies” as a stakeholder in particular areas. Even with the new definition of stakeholder (which is so broad as to simply allow a person to state “I am a stakeholder” and it becomes so), people will not always know whether they can run for a slot on the board or vote in the NC election. A person will have to track down the NC bylaws and study them; this is not a simple process. Most will simply “give up” and choose not to participate. Example: As a Realtor who lists, sells and manages properties in various communities, I have no idea how I can participate with various NCs. I would have to somehow locate and study their bylaws. I have learned that I qualify in some areas and not others. 

The NCRC must assure that every stakeholder can run for a slot on every board and / or vote in that NC election. The NCRC should make sure the people of Los Angeles know how they can participate in a particular NC without being forced to track down bylaws and study them.

B. “Constituent Representative” slots are problematic by their very nature. These seats should be eliminated.

1. Some councils have an automatic seat for a particular organization. The Chamber of Commerce may have a seat every term. Why? Why doesn’t the Ralph’s grocery store or the Apartment Owners Association have an automatic seat? Why doesn’t CBS Studios, Jane’s Social Club or Walmart have an automatic seat? Is it fair and democratic to permit automatic seats?

2. Why should certain categories be included while others are overlooked? Isn’t this arbitrary and discriminatory? Who decides upon these categories? At the very least, there should be some way to appeal to BONC or the Regional Authority with respect to an NC’s decision about these constituent categories.

Why might a board have a hospital seat but not a sex offender seat (many communities have large number of sex offenders acc to the AG database) or why not have an auto body seat (some areas are lined with rows of auto body shops). Why not have an insurance salesman seat or a gardener seat? There are hundreds of gardeners in every residential area. Why don’t they get a special place on the NC board?

Why do some communities have a horse-owner category? There are probably more dog owners, so why don’t they get a category? What about cat owners and gerbil owners?  I would argue that if constituent seats are allowed to continue, every NC should be required to have a category for an animal / environmental representative because there are clearly nonhumans who are impacted by NC decisions (and there are more nonhumans in a community than humans).

Why do some communities have a youth seat, yet they may not have a senior seat? What about a handicapped seat? A gay seat? A married with children seat? A Republican seat? An illegal alien seat? An Ivy League graduate seat? An “I didn’t finish high school” seat? 

I understand the constituent seats are there to create diversity, but this is not what they do. I have seen no increase in diversity. 

And what is diversity? Diversity can be defined in various ways. Is diversity making sure you have a certain number of Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Green Party, etc. on your council? Does diversity mean you have different ages on your council? Does it mean you can’t have all females or all males on the council? Is it skin color? Is it having a balance between those who support affordable housing and those who don’t? Does it mean there should be diversity on particular issues? Diversity of incomes? Occupations? Social classes?  Birth places? It could mean virtually anything.

I suggest that we eliminate constituent seats and let the voters (not the NCs) decide the diversity question. Let’s not try to rig the system. Rigging never works. 

3. NCs often put strict regulations on who or what organization “qualifies” for a certain board seat. For example, some councils have religious institution, community group and school seats, but define these in some particular (and limiting) way. In other words, a group has to qualify (i.e. be a 501c) in some specific way for the category.

Why should a person who attends a Catholic Church once a year be allowed to run for a seat on the board in the religious category and vote in the election, while a person who heads up a meditation group that meets six days per week be excluded (simply because the NC refuses to acknowledge the meditation group as a religious org)? The latter spends more time in the area and arguably has a greater stake, yet is excluded from true participation. Is this fair?

Why should a Neighborhood Association (501c) be allowed to have a slot on the board as a community organization, but a sewing group (that has more meetings in the area, but is not a 501c) be excluded? Why should a home school be prohibited from participating in the school category while the public high school can?  

Let’s take out the arbitrary and discriminatory elements that hurt our NC system.

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The NCRC has created an extremely broad definition for “stakeholder.” We must fine-tune the bylaws issues or NC takeovers will be more commonplace. We also must make sure that all stakeholders (by our new definition) can run for a seat on a NC board and vote in the election.

We must make sure the process is fair both in theory and practice. Allowing "constituent categories" means allowing a fundamental flaw in the system to remain.

* I am defining “constituent representative” slots as outside of “live, work and own property.”