By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
For the past several weeks, rumors have been swirling throughout the Los Angeles Harbor Area that EmpowerLA was set to dismantle the Wilmington Neighborhood Council. The rumors follow the council not being able to conduct meetings for much of 2016.
EmpowerLA Director of Outreach and Communications, Stephen Box, put the rumors to rest. He said that EmpowerLA was, in fact, working to get the Wilmington council working again.
For several months, the Wilmington Neighborhood Council has been failing to achieve quorum at their meetings. A quorum is the minimum number of members of an organization that must be present to conduct a valid meeting. Without a quorum there can’t be a meeting. “In a nutshell, [the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment] is not dismantling or decertifying,” Box said. “The department is going to facilitate the existing board in the process of filling vacant seats … so that the board can achieve quorum and conduct business.”
According to the Wilmington Neighborhood Council’s bylaws the advisory board should be comprised of 24 people. Thirteen people must be present at a board meeting in order for there to be quorum.
Wilmington Neighborhood Council Governing Structure
The governing structure of the board may be the core reason for the neighborhood council’s issues.
Of its 24 board seats, only three are elected on an at-large basis. The remaining 21 board seats are either filled by appointments or by selections through a complicated and ambiguous caucus system.
Six seats are reserved for residential organizations selected by a stakeholder caucus to represent quadrants of the community. These are not defined. People, by definition, are not considered organizations.
The stakeholder selection takes place every two years. Other board membership is structured to include:
- Three business or industry representatives selected by stakeholder caucus
- Two churches representatives selected by stakeholder caucus
- Two education representatives selected by stakeholder caucus
- One labor representative selected by stakeholder caucus
- One nonprofit community or fraternal representative selected by stakeholder caucus
- One recreational representative selected by stakeholder caucus
- One parks advisory board representative selected by stakeholder caucus
- One senior community (although a nominee need only be 16 years old to serve in this capacity) representative selected by stakeholder caucus
Three seats are appointed:
- The youth seat, which is nominated by stakeholder caucus and appointed by the board
- The parliamentary seat, which is appointed by the board
- And the seat representing the Port of Los Angeles and appointed by the Port of Los Angeles
But too much is left to be desired due to the complicated selection and appointment process. For a long time, the board seemed homogenous, older people who have ties with the business community and the Port of Los Angeles.
“You are not going to be outspoken because your hands are tied,” said Sylvia Arredondo, a former selected board member. “The neighborhood council is there sometimes to protect their own interests.”
Former board member Anabell Chavez agrees.
“Some of the members are really old,” Chavez said. “People are invested in it for different reasons.”
But since 2012, there has been a gradual shift in the makeup of the board with younger, more active community members joining.
Interestingly, Wilmington Neighborhood Council’s bylaws states that “no single Stakeholder group shall hold a majority of Board seats unless extenuating circumstances exist and are approved by EmpowerLA.”
There are 96 neighborhood council. Each one has its own strategies and bylaws. They either work or they don’t.
The most recent board election, which took place on June 11, yielded the three elected, at-large, board members. But none of the 18 caucus seats were filled, resulting in a loss of quorum.
Sylvia Arredondo said she was only informed through an email from Wilmington Neighborhood Council Chairwoman Cecilia Moreno that due to the decision by EmpowerLA, she no longer was on the board. She said that part of the reason the selection process failed and resulted in a loss of quorum is a lack of outreach to the community. Volunteering is minimal in the board, communication is minimal and even the materials are limited to English-only in a largely Latino community. The result is low voter turnout in a community known for its involvement because community member do not see the neighborhood council as significant or serving to the community.
“There is no true outreach and if there is, when you want to step up, it depends on who you are,” said Arredondo, explaining that often when a younger member wants to do outreach, another board member is sent along to make sure the message is delivered in accordance to the status quo.
Arredondo said that Moreno’s letter stated that Moreno neither agreed or supported EmpowerLA’s decision.
“I honestly feel lost and confused,” Arredondo said. “It’s great that there is a shake up. There could be more transparency and outreach from DONE to let us know what is going on.”
Box said EmpowerLA did send an email to board members and even offered assistance at the most recent meeting.
In 2010, the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners established a policy to deal with such cases. It states that if vacant seats are greater than three-fourths of the board, the board and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment must create and execute a selection process.
The three at-large board members and Department of Neighborhood Empowerment-EmpowerLA, is expected to conduct a town hall meeting to select board members to fill the vacant caucus seats. The department will work with the newly seated board to ensure quorum is maintained. Any stakeholder who is at least 16 years old is eligible to vote for candidates at the town hall meeting.
Calls and emails to Moreno were not answered as of press time Aug. 3.
The town hall meeting is anticipated to take place in late August. The time, date and venue is yet be determined.