Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Trouble in Glassell Park

Conflicts of Interest. Embarrassing Videos. Hostile Leadership.
Is This Any Way to Run a Neighborhood Council?

by Edward Rivera
Maybe the community should have seen this one coming. Or maybe they did.
In a December 2006 Arroyo Seco Journal article, news editor Margaret Arnold detailed the way in which members of the Victory Outreach church along with advocates of a pro-development organization were elected to the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council (GPNC) board.
A worrisome neighborhood’s predictions for dissension seem to come true.
If you are a follower of local Internet bulletin boards and blogs, you know this story. If not, it is an eye-opening tale of what can happen when a calculated attempt to take over a neighborhood council actually happens.
Most Los Angeles neighborhood councils have experienced growing pains. Neighbors are pitted against neighbors in the name of democracy. Inexperienced citizens are placed in positions of responsibility and asked to oversee a $50,000 yearly budget and to maintain the same code of ethics that City Council members do.
And to adhere to the same conflict of interest regulations.
Among the numerous accusations against Bradley and the GPNC board; some of them trivial, and some with seriously illegal implications, are that the board has:
• Not posted any minutes of any proceedings for nearly 6 months.
• Failed to adequately maintain GPNC website. (Website is now offline.)
• Ignored the approved 4th quarter 2006 budget and expenditures were not honored nor followed through with.
• Held Illegal Executive Committee votes. Illegally added an Assistant Secretary to the GPNC Executive Committee
• Passed Action Items with less than the required minimum eight votes
• Illegally changed the name of the standing Land Use Committee to the Economic Development Committee, in violation of the GPNC bylaws, and the political opposite of the Land Use committee.
• Attempted to disallow videotaping of GPNC Meetings
• Lied with regard to City attorney’s position as to whether written permission was needed from the GPNC Board
• Violated the Brown Act numerous times including requesting the name of a videographer taping a GPNC meeting.
• Bradley did not recuse himself from an April 17 GPNC vote of support for a Victory Outreach sign, though he had a clear and public conflict of interest.
• On April 17 and June 5, Bradley publicly lied in denying he had any dealings with Victory Outreach pertaining to their proposed sign.
• Bradley attempted to intimidate stakeholder Alisa Smith during her presentation to the board until a former boardmember stepped between them.
• Bradley did not declare his community standing and conflict of interest at a recent Zoning Appeals hearing for Victory Outreach, only until the Zoning Administrator asked him.
The majority of the complaints and accusations all come back to one issue—conflict of interest.
GPNC chair Bradley (he goes by one name) is a professional expeditor; that is, he leads local businesses through the morass of city planning and zoning regulations. His company, EBE Associates, Inc. signs documents and represents paying clients before city zoning and planning committees.
The chair of the Education committee, Paula Bagasao, a Downtown resident who is trying to develop hillside homes in heavily-regulated Glassell Park, is the co-founder of PROH-LA, a pro-development organization which deals directly with city officials to ease development and open space rules. She has no current educational afilliation. Bradley is also a member of PROH-LA.
Thus both members are inherently in conflict with their board positions.
Imagine if your doctor was paid by a drug company. A mild exaggeration, but you get the idea.
GPNC treasurer George Smith, board members Dayana Molina, Ezra LaTurco, Ruben Castro, Ref Rodriguez, and Jennifer Rojo are all reportedly members, or married to members, of the Victory Outreach church, which recently asked the board for a support letter for a large electronic animated sign on its property on Eagle Rock Boulevard.
Guess how those members of the vote present voted.
At a Conflict of Interest training session held last year, DONE representative Rita Moreno explained that even “earning good will” for something or someone you are associated with, is a conflict.
Treasurer Smith, the only board member to recuse himself from the vote, is also an employee of Illig Construction, the company that would build the sign.
[Editor’s note: E-mail requests for interviews and a list of questions was sent to Chairman Bradley, boardmember Bagasao, and treasurer Smith. No one responded.]
The GPNC’s bylaws state the following with regard to ethics:
“A Conflict occurs anytime business is before [you] that involves: a. A business in which you or a member of your family has an investment; b. An entity of which you are an officer or director or hold some position of management; c. Real property in which you or a member of your family has an interest; d. A source of income to you or a member of your immediate family; e. A source of gifts to you; or f. Any person or entity with which you have a relationship other than in your capacity as a city official ... 3. All members will announce when such a conflict or interest arises at the beginning of the discussion of any such matter and shall abstain from voting.”
Each board member is also required to sign a written acknowledgement affirming that they have read and understand the Bylaws, announce when a conflict arises, and recuse themselves from the proceedings.
The rules conclude, “Failure to comply with code of ethics may be cause for removal.”
And then there are those videos.
The last few meetings have been taped, with edited versions posted to the YouTube Website. In the most notorious, Bradley requests a copy of the videotape, something he is not entitled to.
The videographer hesitates. One board member says she was never asked for her permission to be videotaped. Almost on cue, a wave of “Yeah, me neither,” is heard, and Bradley says he has discussed the matter with Peter King in the City Attorney’s office and King told him twice that permission must be secured, which is not true.
(King told the Arroyo Seco Journal that he had a discussion with Bradley regarding conflicts of interest, but that the conversation was privileged.)
Bradley repeats this information to her and then asks her to leave, if she does not agree. Surprisingly, she does, but she returns to a later meeting and confronts Bradley with a radius map created on behalf on the Victory Outreach church. The document is signed by him.
At first he claims not to know what the document is, then says, “Its OK, its just a radius map,” tacitly acknowledging his paid affiliation with the church.
She returns again to subsequent meetings to attempt to get Bradley to admit his involvement with Victory Outreach. Each time, he nervously, but successfully squirms away, mostly by simply closing the discussion.
In the most recent meeting, he tells her to submit her question in writing, under a rule that does not exist. And in each meeting, his demeanor is haughty and patronizing.
Type in “Glassell Park” at and see for yourself.
(Ironically, the videographer herself, who taped the meetings, refuses to be identified. Her associates, some of them former GPNC boardmembers, who originally persuaded her to do the taping, have also refused to identify her. Must be a Glassell Park thing.)
Other community members claim GPNC is using stalling practices in order to deny funding requests for the “I See my River” educational project at Glassell Park Elementary school, which has been funded for the past 3 years by GPNC, and has served over 300 students since its inception.
A letter was first submitted to requesting its placement on the agenda, and follow-up phone calls and emails were not answered. After four months, there is still no funding.
"The current board seems to get their jollies from watching ‘stakeholders’ grovel for monies rightfully voted to their projects, requiring them to come back time after time to countless meetings," said former board member Brian Frobisher.
Said another former board member, “ I can’t imagine going before this board for funding, they are so hostile.”
Said Bagasao, “Just because something comes to us for funding doesn't mean we have to fund it,” adding, “It is the board’s responsibility to find projects to fund,” which is something they have never done.
The chair of the newly formed Grants and Funding Committee resigned his position in May. There is currently no community funding mechanism in place in the GPNC.
And only one member of the GPNC executive committee member showed up at its July 3 meeting.
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