Sunday, November 09, 2008

CityWatchLA - Private Memoirs of an IEA

CityWatch, Nov 8, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 90

By Stephen Box

(Note: Neighborhood Council elections are now managed and overseen by the City Clerk. Independent Election Administrators are no longer a part of the NC election process.)

This past Saturday marked the end of my tour of duty as an Independent Election Administrator charged with supervising Neighborhood Council elections throughout the City of Los Angeles.

My final election was held in Chatsworth, where stakeholders have traditionally been identified as those who "Live, work, own property or board a horse." The week prior, I was in Coastal San Pedro where stakeholders have traditionally been identified as those who "Live, work, own property or dock a boat." Such is the diversity of Los Angeles. Of course all of that changed when our City Council imposed the new "Live, work, own property or whatever" stakeholder status on Neighborhood Councils and it was then that I knew the end was nigh.

Through it all, I learned a great deal from those I've worked with, encountering along the way a multitude of people with unique talents and perspectives who challenged me to be innovative in making the election process relevant to the needs of their local community.

I've also been humbled as I watched newly immigrated senior citizens listen patiently as a translator explained how to use a ballot, all as they prepared to vote for the first time in their lives. I listened to a candidate explain to a Forum audience that he came from a country that held no elections. Now that he was here, he felt that it was his duty to run. These experiences served to remind me that Neighborhood Council elections are a significant and important step into the world of participatory democracy.

As an IEA, I've been run ragged and overwhelmed with voters. I've sat in an empty room, bored and holding an empty ballot box, waiting for the day to end. I've been yelled at and cursed and I've been hugged and thanked and made to feel like family.

I've conducted elections in museums, churches, community centers, schools, a train station and even the Farmer's Market. I've even held meetings in parking garages and I’ve held two elections on the sidewalk after getting locked out by LAUSD. Along the way, I was perpetually reminded that it was never the comfort of the facility but it was always the spirit of the people that made for a successful election.

In spite of the fact that Los Angeles is the second largest city in the country, I now think of LA as a collection of small towns, NC sized, complete with unique character, personality, needs and desires. It's my experience that it was the ability of NC's to make unique the Neighborhood Council experience, tailoring the bylaws and election procedures to their needs and philosophy, that was key to creating ownership and responsibility.

While critics claim that the old system of elections allowed for too much variation, deviation and even failure, I counter with this: True democracy is a guarantee of process, not of result. Granted, it allows for failure but it also allows for success. Either way, the results belong to the participants and that is the essence of participatory democracy.

For all of the pontificating and posturing as the City Council weighed in on the Neighborhood Councils and revised the DNA of the system, I never encountered a City Councilmember at an NC election. Perhaps they think it inappropriate to meddle in NC politics and they might have a point, a good point.

Still, it would have been nice to see them drive by, drop off a box of Krispy Kremes and thank the volunteers. After all, this is where the business of the people takes place.

As this era fades, I'm optimistic for the Neighborhood Council system, not because of the recent changes in process but because of the people I've met, the friends I've made and the passion and enthusiasm I've encountered along the way.

To the neighborhood councils I've worked with, thanks for the ride!

(Stephen Box served as an Independent Election Administrator for a number of years. Box writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

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