Bill Boyarsky
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Neighborhood councils show some muscle

The City Council seems to be listening to the neighborhood councils and the City Ethics Commission.

The council is considering a proposal that would require stringent financial disclosure by neighborhood council members. The disclosure would be mandated when a neighborhood council proposed legislation, which in city hall is known as a council file. Any member of a neighborhood council which introduces a file would have to fill out the same disclosure form required of all city officials, including commissioners.

The neighborhood councils objected to the disclosure proposal, introduced by Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Greg Smith. Neighborhood council members felt that the stringent requirements for volunteers would discourage people from participating in the councils. The ethics commission agreed.

Faced with such opposition, the City Council put off a decision. Instead, the council referred the disclosure issue to its Education and Neighborhoods Committee. Later, the committee members unanimously indicated support for a modification of the Garcetti-Smith proposal. The committee probably won't make a decision until sometime in March.

The Garcetti-Smith plan doesn't make sense. We commissioners and other city officials have power to take action so we should disclose our financial holdings. But neighborhood councils are advisory. Even if a neighborhood council introduces legislation, the council can ignore it.

We ethics commissioners strongly made that point in a letter to the city council signed by our executive director, LeeAnn Pelham, but reflecting all of our sentiments

We said that we understood the need for "some level of disclosure." But "the commission also expressed its concerns that any proposed disclosure requirements be proportional and balanced so as not to inadvertently chill public participation in the neighborhood council system, which is still in the nascent stage."

The letter also said " a neighborhood council's ability to introduce a council file does not imbue it with any decision making authority over any matter of public policy affecting either its own interests or those of other city residents…the city council retains complete discretion and authority to decline consideration of any proposed council file."

I hope that argument will resonate with every city council member while the neighborhood councils fight for a more practical system of disclosure.

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