NC Stakeholder Definition: Half-Baked, But That’s How We Roll

NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCILS-I applaud the City’s attempt to relegate the “Starbuck’s Stakeholder” to a non-entity.  Much like many things City Council, and nearly everything Department of Neighborhood Empowerment  (DONE) related, the new “Community Interest Stakeholder” definition is half-baked.  

Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably as good as a “good first step” gets here, but with some tollbooth-sized loopholes you can drive a truck through.  And trust me, I know from NC election loopholes. 

In March 2010, I was one of the key conspirators who engineered a “bloodless coup” (or “hostile takeover” depending on who you ask) of the ‘Greater Griffith Park’ neighborhood council, which is in essence, Los Feliz … what our council was ultimately renamed.  A confederation of ten candidates won all ten governing board seats (out of 19) up that year.  We had to.  In order gain a supermajority capable of changing our bylaws into something that looked more like a civic structure and less like a social club, it was ten seats or bust.  The election was nothing short of vicious; “The smaller the cause, the bigger the knife.” 

Given the looser than loose “factual-basis” stakeholder definition coupled with all voters able to vote across all five of our districts, we were told it would be impossible to “take” one district, much less “sweep” an entire board.  But, I was also told it was impossible to win as a write-in candidate two years before.  In both cases, I, and then we, used this taboo strategy called: “Marketing.”  

Never before had a NC candidate here made flyers or banners or had friends flog voters to the poll.  It was also the first time the City Clerk oversaw the elections so perhaps there was a bit more candidate outreach than usual.  Let’s face it, the premise some NC folks will go out of their way to recruit their potential replacements is fundamentally flawed.  

But without that ridiculous “factual basis” definition and an election system tailor made for “grossing-up” a candidate’s “base” of voters, neither campaign would have worked.  Because of it, I, as a write-in (2008) and then we, as a slate (2010) prevailed.   And I have no compunction admitting it. If it weren’t for a ludicrous system I probably couldn’t be elected Village Idiot, often saying, “I didn’t make these kooky rules, I’m just playing by them.” 

In between May 2010 and the recent 2014 mandate of our new-and-improved “Community Interest” stakeholder definition, our governing board set out to close every loophole we had previously exploited.  We eliminated a board structure where nearly half the seats were appointed-- one where appointees could vote for one another (and themselves) and we nixed the ability to vote across all districts, in a “one stake, one vote” way. 

Ostensibly, the new Community Interest stakeholder definition is to ensure voters are genuine neighborhood stakeholders, and not friends of friends, co-workers or people who owe someone some favors, yet have no real stake in the community.  What’s not to like? 

Well, if you have a great big park in your NC (like we do), declaring I played in Griffith Park qualifies a voter, and that’s easier (and cheaper) than stopping off at Starbucks to get a latte receipt.  Plus, try finding parking at a Starbucks on a Saturday morning.  But in a truth is stranger than fiction sort of way, our next-door NC neighbors in Silver Lake saw an even savvier new media election strategy pan out this month. 

Someone set up a website based around the issue of whether or not the soon to be decommissioned reservoir should be converted into a municipal watering hole.  The term “local hot button issue” would be spot on, here.  Signing up on this website (about 30 seconds) generated one easy-to-print membership letter, anointing anyone as a voter in the recent Silver Lake election.  Clever?  Definitely.  Sketchy?  Yeah, that too, as anyone with a worldwide web browser (and I do mean world-wide) could sign up and become a bona fide stakeholder, ergo, “Ich bin ein Silver Laker” belongs on some tee shirts in Berlin. 

Is cyber voter validation legitimate?  Apparently DONE thinks so, as in dismissing the twenty five challenges to the Silver Lake’s election, which saw a new slate virtually wipe out the old guard there, DONE officially responded saying a website, even one set-up like last month, IS “ongoing and substantial participation.” 

When the new and improved stakeholder definition arrived, the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC) quickly adopted some new bylaw language because we felt the city’s definition was a bit vague.  

For us, a “Community Organization” had to have a physical address it conducts verifiable operations from.  No, post office boxes don’t count; a P.O. box address can be set up in a day (as can a website).  The organization needs to have documentation an organization of its sort would likely have: An IRS non-profit tax determination, a Tax ID #, a Business Tax Registration Certificate (BTRC), etcetera.  In other words, the organization has to be REAL (like a school, or a church, or non-profit business, a club that regularly meets in the library, or even an organized recreation sports league stating where it routinely plays).  

Perfect?  No, but a pretty good deterrent to potential election hijinks. 

In “blessing” a website (or a facebook page) as “ongoing and substantial,” I think whomever came to that conclusion made a foundational error, setting a foundational precedent.  The spirit of eliminating the “Starbucks Stakeholder” was to keep the system from being “gamed.”  Green-lighting a website as a legitimate stakeholder verification further devaluates the NC system’s legitimacy. 

My ongoing issue with DONE is: even though the personnel are really nice and all, it’s like giving people who’ve never flown before operational oversight of an airline; a “kaboom” is inevitable. 

 

(Mark F. Mauceri is the Recreation Representative on the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 36

Pub: May 2, 2014