Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council Hindered by Infighting

  • 09/13/2019
  • RL Intern

By Hunter Chase, Reporter

The Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council met on Aug. 27, but for the second time the board failed to reach quorum and was unable to vote on anything.

Two weeks prior, Board President Maria Couch cancelled the meeting which would have been held on Aug. 13. She did this because she thought they would not have a quorum.

Board member Jeff McBurney responded by calling a special meeting on Aug. 13 instead. Shortly after, members of the board planned for the second meeting in August, even though the board normally only meets once a month.

McBurney said Couch emailed the board prior to the Aug. 27 stakeholder meeting a memo stating the next board meeting will be in September, seemingly ignoring the planned Aug. 27 meeting.

At the Aug. 27 meeting, the board members that showed up planned an agenda setting meeting for the Sept. 10, but then Couch sent an agenda to the board for that stakeholder meeting on Aug. 30, McBurney said.

Couch’s move was highly unusual given that agendas for the council’s meetings are normally only created by an agenda setting committee, secretary of the board Lou Caravella said.

Caravella did not expect members of the board to argue about the legitimacy of the agenda, as he doubted the board had the energy for it.

The agenda was added to the website two days prior to Couch sending it to the board, but it was not easily accessible. It could only be found by going to the site’s calendar, then clicking on the meeting.

The fact that the agenda is on the website is something of a victory in itself, as previous agendas had not been posted to the site. The Mailroom, which is the authorized web administrator and vendor, had been locked out of the site since at least July 12, Caravella said. The board had hired Moore Business Results to redesign the website for $4,000, but it was only intended to be an aesthetic redesign.

Since locking out The Mailroom, Moore Business Results has not communicated with any member of the board except Couch, Vice President Jane Castillo and Outreach Chair Khixaan Obioma-Sakhu, said Caravella. Because of this, the agendas for several public meetings have not been posted on the site, in possible violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act. This includes the agendas for the Aug. 13 and Aug. 27 meeting.

About an hour before the Aug. 27 meeting began, Thomas Soong, a representative of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the governing body that oversees neighborhood councils, sent an email cancelling the meeting. His reasons for the cancellation were that the meeting was in violation of the council’s bylaws, which require agendas to be posted on the website. However, Soong mistakenly sent the email to the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council instead of Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, said Doug Epperhart, president of Coastal.

The Sept. 10 agenda sent by Couch does include an action item written by Caravella, stating that only the website administrator, which is the Mailroom, and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment will have access to the website’s backend and the board’s email address.

What was not included was a port pledge designed to prevent a conflict of interest with Maria Couch, who is an employee of the Port of Los Angeles, said board member Frank Anderson. The pledge would add a standing rule that employees of the port could not vote on issues that involved the port, or serve as or choose a representative in neighborhood  council and Chamber Presidents meetings. Anderson is the chair of the port committee, and previously represented Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council at these meetings, but Couch recently replaced him with Obioma-Sakhu without telling Anderson. Anderson came to the meeting and was not allowed in, but Couch and Obioma-Sakhu were let in as Couch had listed both as the council’s representatives.

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