"Providing a forum for public discussion of issues and advice to the city of Los Angeles on issues related to city administration, the needs of this neighborhood council, the provision of city services and matters of city-wide interest."
– NENC statutes
In the four months since former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander was indicted as part of an extensive corruption investigation, his former chief of staff has refused to disclose whether he is City Staffer B, as described by the prosecutor's office. This information is relevant to the public since John Lee is the current council member of Council District 12. The people he represents deserve to know if he may have participated in the illegal behavior listed in the indictment.
At the request of their constituents, the Northridge East Neighborhood Council (NENC) Executive Committee submitted a motion to the board meeting agenda on July 15, 2020, proposing to "send a letter of inquiry to whether Councilor John Lee" was City Staffer B. "It is referred to in an indictment against former Council member Mitchell Englander." On the morning of the meeting, NENC President Glenn Bailey sent an email to the rest of the Council stating that "based on the Prosecutor's Agenda (Council) advice, agenda item 11e would not be considered". Bailey said that he followed the instructions of prosecutor Elise Ruden and did not allow the entire council to see her full email. Instead, he shared an excerpt and classified it as "confidential". In the segment he provided, the resolution was treated before the board as an investigation rather than an accountability call.
When asked why the decision could not be changed instead of pulling the whole point, Bailey asked for a wording. He then submitted this new version to the prosecutor. Again, the full answer was not given, but an extract (again marked confidential) made it clear that the wording of the proposed resolution was not the problem; It was unacceptable to ask the city council whether he was the person named in an indictment against his former boss. In an obvious attempt to persuade the elected members of the Neighborhood Council to comply with the lawyer's request, a document entitled "Personal Liability for Board Members of the Neighborhood Council" was attached to the email.
NENC is not the first neighborhood council to involve the prosecutor after putting a Lee-related item on its agenda. The Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council (PRNC) scheduled a special meeting on June 24, which included a call to resign Lee and a call to "all neighborhood councilors in Council District 12, represented by Lee, to take a position on the matter". This meeting was abruptly canceled after a complaint was filed with the prosecutor's office that was reported to lead to an investigation into the members of that neighborhood council.
Asaad Alnajjar is a member of the PRNC and questions the way the prosecutor's office fits into the examination of applications. He admits that one of the duties of this office is to "ensure that all urban units comply with the laws and regulations". In addition to the neighborhoods, the office also represents the city and the members of the city council. This represents a clear conflict of interest, especially if two of the units are on different sides of a conflict.
The Neighborhood Council member believes that the Attorney General's actions to block the PRNC resolutions "clearly show an abuse of authority and a violation of the neighborhood council members' right to speak on the first change."
Alnajjar firmly believes that, since "John Lee's problem is now a public issue, the City Council must seriously investigate any violations of Mr. Lee's ethics during his tenure as an employee or a council member." He notes that "blocking CD 12 neighborhood councils will not make these alleged violations go away. Maybe Mr. Lee previously got away with sexual harassment, but corruption is a crime that all voters need to know." He believes an ethics review is overdue. "
Another PRNC board member added: "The events now taking place clearly show that the deputy prosecutor miscalculated her steps and acted irrationally to issue a gagging order against the PRNC. Her actions clearly show the cooperation with the office by Councilor Lee to Support Another PRNC Board Member The whole fiasco was an illegal attempt to prevent the neighborhood councils from investigating the numerous known violations of Mr. Lee's ethics, and finally city ethics must examine the results and share them with the public "As a community, we should be outraged and deeply concerned. I think we should hold John Lee City Council accountable for requesting an investigation."
Speaking to other representatives of the Neighborhood Council, it is clear that there is an unwritten rule that councils do not have to be confronted with city members to maintain access to the city council members' offices that are required to stand up for voters Council directly. In one example, retaliation was overtly claimed because of the allegation that a council lost its public meeting room after a confrontation with its representative. As a result, it is not possible to clarify the ethical questions surrounding Lee a few councils ago.
Tom Booth of the West Hills Neighborhood Council (WHNC) firmly believes that "every neighborhood council in Council District 12 should weigh their full board on this issue". Booth tried to get a resolution on the WHNC agenda similar to that adopted by the Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council, saying that "to request an investigation into this ethical swamp is the least we can do for our stakeholders who have the right to do so to have." Reply. "However, his efforts were blocked in committee." I am very disappointed that the West Hills Neighborhood Council has decided not to allow our full board to address this problematic issue. "
After more than 20 minutes of public opinion, which largely supported the resolution, the NENC voted to override its president and put the item back on the agenda. After the discussion in the board, the proposed resolution was changed as follows:
This advice would ask the office of Councilor Lee for clarity as to whether Councilor Lee "Staffer B" is indicting the FBI against former Council member Mitchell Englander. In addition, this council would urge the ethics committee to review Council Lee's involvement in the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee to take into account his involvement in the FBI's current corruption investigation.
The amended application was accepted with 9-0-4.
Teresa Priem, who lives in Northridge East, was "disappointed that the LA prosecutor tried to end the Neighborhood Council's discussion of John Lee and his possible involvement in a federal investigation." She was therefore "very happy that the board did the right thing and voted for the decision". In fact, she thought that "the amended resolution was much stronger than the original".
Like other stakeholders in favor of the resolution, Priem expressed particular concern that "Lee is on the PLUM committee, the same committee where corruption took place while we wait to see if he was involved in any unethical behavior." Like members of the Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council, she wants "to ask the LA Ethics Committee to investigate whether he was involved."
Given the enormous public interest in this resolution, it does not seem possible that John Lee can sweep his trip to Vegas under the carpet. Will Lee finally answer the question after being formally asked by the "closest form of government" whether he is "City Staffer B"? If not, will City Council President Nury Martinez remove him from his committees while the public is waiting for the federal prosecutor to respond?
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special educational needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the CAC of LAUSD, and a Greens candidate in the LAUSD District 2 School Board Race. During the campaign, he was supported by the action of the Network for Public Education (NPE), and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools". You can find links to his blogs at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. The opinions are his own.