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ACTIVISTS GET CLOUT -- WITH STRINGS DISCLOSURES: NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCILS MUST REVEAL PERSONAL FINANCES TO GAIN POWER.

Byline: Kerry Cavanaugh

Staff Writer

The city's grass-roots system of neighborhood councils got new power Tuesday when the Los Angeles City Council voted to allow the panels to introduce public-policy proposals -- but only if individual members disclose their personal finances.

The unanimous vote came after two hours of intense debate on requiring community volunteers to file the same financial-disclosure forms that elected officials, commissioners and some city employees must file.

The vote was considered a win-lose by neighborhood council activists who had long pushed for the authority to officially introduce ideas into city government.

"It represents a significant expansion of the ability neighborhood councils have to impact legislation," said Jason Lyon with the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and the Neighborhood Council Review Commission. "But it's going to have a lot of consequences they didn't anticipate. It will create a morass of paperwork and increase bureaucracy."

Those are exactly the types of problems that the review commission had intended to reduce.

And other neighborhood council members warned Tuesday that volunteers -- especially owners of small businesses or independent operators, such as attorneys -- would quit the councils rather than file financial information and disclose their clients' names.

"You're going to see people get up and resign over this, and those are the people you don't want to have leave -- people who are smart, motivated and only in it for the improvement of their community," said Lydia Mather of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council.

But City Council members decided that if neighborhood councils are going to have new power to propose public policy, then their members should have to file the same financial disclosures as others who hold that authority -- currently only the mayor, the City Council and department general managers.

Councilman Greig Smith led the push for neighborhood council members -- and possibly their spouses -- to disclose their income, investments and real estate holdings.

"If you're going to start introducing motions, we need to know why and where they are coming from," urged Smith, saying he's seen five examples of councils influenced or taken over by special interests.

"You can remain advisory if you want," Smith said. "But if you want to be a legislator and write legislation, then play by the rules that everyone plays by."

Council President Eric Garcetti also endorsed the financial-disclosure requirement.

"With power comes responsibility," he said, adding that neighborhood councils should also be required to disclose whether they would benefit financially from any of their public-policy proposals.

Smith and Garcetti said they didn't think the requirement would end up being too cumbersome or intrusive.

The disclosures would be required only of councils that choose to introduce public policy.

The new authority marks a two-year pilot project in which a neighborhood council would be able to introduce a motion and open a City Council file if a second neighborhood council endorses the motion.

Councils would be limited to opening three files in a year.

More than a year ago, the City Council considered granting such authority but rejected the proposal out of fear that the boards could be influenced by special interests.

But the Neighborhood Council Review Commission, appointed by the mayor and City Council, decided that neighborhood councils needed a way to put their ideas into the public record.

The City Council has asked the Ethics Commission to review the new requirements, which could trigger financial disclosure from an estimated 1,600 members.

kerry.cavanaugh(at)dailynews.com

213-978-0390
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 16, 2008
Words:571
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