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DLANC: Is All Press Good Press?

By Eric Richardson
Published: Saturday, January 08, 2005, at 04:43PM

The new issue of the Downtown News is out, and the lead story (at least online... I haven't picked up a paper copy yet) is titled "Success and Growing Pains: The Downtown Neighborhood Council Learns That It's Hard to Escape the Politics." At first I wanted to blast the piece as negative to DLANC, but I'm not going to do that. It's not really a bad piece; author Chris Coates is routinely at the DLANC board meetings and I think he has a good feel for what he's writing about. That said, the article feels to me a bit sensational, making good reading but not really telling the whole story. Click read more to get a more in-depth breakdown...

I have to start off by disagreeing with the opening of the piece's second section ("Delays and Committees"). Chris writes that

DLANC's December board meeting was typical. Fifteen minutes after it was scheduled to start, board president Brady Westwater was still waiting for a quorum of 14 members. "They all said they were coming," remarked Westwater as he paced about the Department of Water and Power's cafeteria, where meetings are held the second Tuesday of every month (the next one takes place Jan. 11). The meeting finally began 30 minutes late.

It's disingenuous to claim that meetings routinely must wait for a quorum. Meetings do indeed often start a few minutes late, and some board members do indeed run later than others, but of the meetings I have attended December was the only one to be forced to delay business until a quorum was reached.

He then makes some very valid points on organizational issues. Absolutely we need better minutes, and as he notes the hiring of a professional minute taker will go a long way toward making that happen. The delay that Chris notes doesn't seem to me to be DLANC's fault. I don't know all the details, but as I understand it it's been hard to just find interested candidates. I also note that the agenda for DLANC's Jan 11 meeting includes

12: Consideration and possile (sic) action of taping Board Meeting and having the Board Secretary only records motions and votes on motions in the minutes until a recording secretary is hired.

Brady's claim that individual votes can't be produced because of unanimous approvals does hold water. I can think of only one time in the last months where members were asked their vote individually. Most votes go on record as passing unanimously, with abstentions noted.

The DLANC website did take a long time to get done, but as someone with experience in web development I can understand that. I remember occasions when it has taken me months to get contract work done to the client's liking, and those were in situations where the other party had a vested financial interest in getting the job done. Here we have DLANC -- a group of very part-time representatives -- working with a developer who I'm sure wasn't exactly getting top-dollar for doing this work. From what I've seen I think the result is good, though in any sort of an operation featuring changing content the important part is less how you start and more how you continue to utilize the infrastructure you create.

And then we get to the items having to do with the Arts committee, namely Gallery Row and the LA Art Festival (referred to as L'art, since renamed). Gallery Row's inception did highlight issues having to do with needing to constantly bring issues back to the DLANC meetings; at the December meeting Kjell talked about how hard it was to do Gallery Row planning when each change in literature needed to return to DLANC for approval. There are stages at which the organizational structure for an idea or an event must be given free reign to move fast and hard, without having to constantly ask for permission. That's why I was in favor of letting the idea of LA Art Fest spin off into its own non-profit. First because it eliminated fund-raising problems that are systemic to LA's neighborhood council system (namely, you can't do it yourself). But secondly because it gave the Festival planners the freedom to go off and do what needed to be done. I, as a member of the Arts committee, understand their goals and their heart. I don't need to vote on each piece of literature they choose to distribute. In fact I don't want to do so; I want to give them the freedom to go out and do cool things. As it stands the neighborhood council cannot officially create non-profits, so letting those who have been involved in the planning do so and come back to us seems to be the best way to accomplish good things in the midst of an imperfect system.

I've read some interesting discussions lately concerning Robert's Rules of Order. Until I got to DLANC I think my only exposure to them might have been a debate class at USC. I think we do at times get to bound up in the protocol and letter of the law, but I would say that this happens far more than it would if neighborhood council representatives were required to take a class that introduced them to the practical implementation of the rules. I don't think Robert's the villain here: it's more a case where too many people know just enough of him to be dangerous, but not enough to be useful.

Update (10:30pm): I thought more over the last few hours and decided to change up my opening a bit. Here's what I originally had:

All in all it's a good piece; author Chris Coates is routinely at the DLANC board meetings and I think he has a good feel for what he's writing about. It would be tempting to blast the piece as negative to DLANC, but I really don't think it is. I think it's fair. Click read more to get a more in-depth breakdown...


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