- Terelle Jerricks
- Comments are off
The Central Neighborhood Council in Disarray Following Resignations
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
The April 18 Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council Stakeholder Meeting looked more like a mutiny than the democratic workings of a local board. Stakeholders called for Mona Sutton to step down as board president, but not from the board.
Board member Joanne Rallo announced her resignation, effective after the meeting, following in the footsteps of board members James Dimon and John Stammreich, who had resigned after the March stakeholder meeting. The resignations underscore ongoing tensions on the board that had burst into public view during the March Stakeholder Meeting.
In June of 2016, there was a near complete takeover of the board by Saving San Pedro emerged at the height of the anti-homeless fervor of 2015. Ever since Saving San Pedro wound up in the position of governing, as opposed to activism, they have struggled.
Some of the struggles stem from lack of experience on a governing body that uses Robert’s Rules of Order. Other struggles stem from community advocates unaccustomed to having their every decision checked by an overseeing authority, such as the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.
Then there is the emergence of parts of San Pedro that have not traditionally been heard but are now finding their voices, like the primarily working-class Latino residents of Barton Hill, they successfully organized and rallied against the attempted placement of a Navigation Center designed to serve and store the belongings of homeless people. Another emerging group is an LGBT voting block comprised of Mona Sutton, Leslie Jones, Aidan Garcia-Sheffield and Allyson Vought.
These interest groups have inserted a level of identity politics not seen in recent memory at the neighborhood council level.
Resignations and sniping on social media over the past couple of months have taken place amidst calls for Sutton to step down as board president. This follows a March stakeholder meeting in which she called for the resignation of board Vice President Donald Galaz. Sutton called for Galaz’s resignation because of a Facebook post that he published regarding the tearing down of his posters during his write-in candidacy for the Los Angeles City Council. In that post, Galaz wrote:
[Mine are] not the only posters/signs being torn down and thrown away … running has brought out people’s true colors. Don’t look now but the person you may be sitting next to smiling in a neighborhood council meeting or at the beach clean up could be easing a Cutco knife in your back while asking for a neighborhood purpose grant…
Galaz mentioned no names, but Sutton’s outburst identified her as the object of the post. It also opened a Pandora’s box that no one has been able to close.
Tension on the board can be traced to a few separate points of conflict.
One is the friction between the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment or DONE, and the council. This was on display when DONE forced the council to postpone and reschedule its April 11 meeting because it fell on the Seder of Passover, a Jewish holiday.
Another was when DONE stepped in and told the board they couldn’t remove Sutton as president following the March stakeholder meeting, after the board voted 8 to 3 to place that motion on the April agenda.
Another source of tension arose because the March stakeholder meeting outburst was not fully captured word-for-word in the council’s minutes.
Linda Alexander, who has operated as the board’s informal parliamentarian and institutional memory since leaving the board in 2015, said this was not unusual.
“Every word said at these meetings is never written down,” Alexander said. “You don’t write every word except if it’s a written motion that’s come before the board. Because otherwise you’d have ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ throughout the meeting minutes.”
Others countered that in the interest of transparency, a full transcript should be included with the minutes.
Barton Hill community stakeholder member Maria Couch agreed that it was in the interest of transparency that a near full transcription should be included with the minutes, minus the “oohs” and “ahs.”
The April council meeting began with general public comment that was actually used as an opportunity to blast the council president by a couple of board members, each of whom had filled out a few time cards to ensure that they had enough time relieve all of their grievances.
Board member Mike Collins was one of the first to speak during public comment and challenged Sutton to step down.
Collins cited Aiden Garcia-Sheffield’s ascension to the board as an example of the divisiveness Sutton had sown into the board. Collins noted that he liked Garcia-Sheffield and voted for him to join the board and even voted in favor of Garcia-Sheffield’s proposal to establish an LGBT committee.
Collins alleged that Sutton would speak negatively about board members Donald Galaz and Danielle Sandoval in private conversations with him and accused her of referring to Rancho San Pedro residents as “those people,” suggesting racial or classist animus towards the Latino residents of Rancho San Pedro public housing. Collins said he particularly objected to Sutton’s advocacy of Garcia-Sheffield at the expense of two Barton Hill community residents. He explained that he voted for Garcia-Sheffield anyway because he spoke before the board and initially liked him.
Collins said he soured on Garcia-Sheffield after at least two incidents in which Garcia-Sheffield questioned the nonprofit status of Clean San Pedro when a funding request arose.
Collins charged that leadership has been lacking on the board under Sutton and what did exist was provided by the recently resigned board member John Stammreich.
Rallo directly talked about how she was not happy with the neighborhood council and how things changed from six to eight months ago. She also was unhappy with Sutton’s leadership.
The council bylaws give each commenter two minutes. They can’t extend that time by filling out multiple time cards. Sutton, who chaired the meeting, did not cut them off.
The board addressed and voted on a funding request for Music by the Sea, which went on hiatus in 2016. After voting in favor of the request, the board heard a report from the Port of Los Angeles police, voted on a few funding measures, and discussed the council’s audio/visual needs. At this point, one by one, several members left the meeting. Some thought it was just a couple of board members leaving for a restroom break. But a majority left and never returned, resulting in a loss of quorum. The meeting ended rather ignominiously. The departed members included board members Galaz, Sandoval, Collins, Terry Bonich, Rallo and Jose Guerrero. Sutton made no response to either the board or the public about resigning her position. Although there are now four vacancies on the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, they have yet to call for the vacancies to be filled as prescribed in the bylaws.