Friday, February 19, 2010

LA’s Budget Crisis: No Time for Flip-Flop Leadership

CityWatch, Feb 19, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 14

BongHwan Kim, the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, is experiencing a "moment of reckoning" brought to him courtesy of the city's budget crisis and the resulting debate over NC funding, DONE operations, core priorities and the delivery of services. Kim's "defining moment" is revealing him as a department leader without a clear direction or plan, evidenced by his contradictory comments and endorsements at the BudgetLA meeting on Saturday, the Budget & Neighborhoods Committee on Tuesday and the City Council on Thursday.

On Saturday, Kim endorsed a proposal to pursue a independent organization from outside the city family to administrate the NC funding program. This comment came at the BudgetLA meeting that also featured Lupe Solorio of Community Partners who introduced her organization as a potential "oversight" organization. It sounded like Kim was in favor.

On Tuesday, Kim sat at the Horseshoe and endorsed a proposal to direct the CAO, the CLA, the City Clerk, CDD, the City Controller and BONC to explore options within the city family to find a host for the NC funding oversight responsibilities. In some cases, the departmental reports came with requests for additional staffing. In no case, did they come with a plan. It now sounded like Kim was in favor of an "in-house" concept.

While it's true that the ability to entertain opposing positions is a sign of wisdom, it can border on doublethink when contradictory proposals get oscillating support with no more thought or explanation other than "It's important to explore all options." That may have been true in the days of research and forecasting but the city is in the midst of the battle and now is the time for decisive leadership with actions based that demonstrate commitment and confidence.

Thursday's City Council session gave a demonstration of the complete opposite as Councilman Greig Smith grilled Kim, asking if he could get the NC funding audit work done on schedule. Kim responded "I'll do my best." drawing the ire of Smith who went on the attack, suggesting that if that was the best answer available, Kim should resign and the Mayor should fire him.

Harsh words on a tough day. The City Council chose this moment to leave Kim hanging, leaving chambers to debate in closed session, returning to announce a motion to increase the call for layoffs to 4000.

Kim eventually found himself at the Horseshoe where he offered a new answer to Smith's query, "I will follow the instructions of the City Council and I will get it done if I have to do it myself."

Strong words but they come at the end of a journey that has too much ambivalence and not enough commitment to a vision and a plan.

LA’s budget crisis is no time for flip-flop leadership and vague answers. LA’s neighborhood councils deserve more.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

No comments: