Friday, March 19, 2010

Democracy: warts+all …or let’s replace your volunteers with paid professionsals| A Very Expensive Failed Project CITY-CLERK-RUN NC ELECTIONS

By J. Russell Brown | from CityWatch – an insider look at city hall - Vol 8 Issue 22 |

♪♪smf notes: This isn’t totally off-topic, it does mention schools as civic partners – and 4LAKids believes that schools need to involve themselves with their Neighborhood Councils and NC’s into School Site Councils. Both are Local Government at Its Most Local.  But city hall running NC elections (at $21,404 per election!) in this budget crisis is incomprehensible. How many preschool teachers could that pay for at Rec & Parks preschool programs? How much afterschool care. Please!

Mar 19, 2010 -- As I sat reading the City Clerk report on the first round of NC election results from the West Valley, the enormity of the amount being spent, the lack of participation and the missed opportunity of what is rapidly unfolding becomes glaringly obvious.

We arrived here from a recommendation of the 912 Commission that City-Clerk-run elections would legitimize the NC’s authority with the City and magnify participation.

The City Clerk would professionalize the elections so that NC’s could be free to set more important priorities and DONE would not be distracted in their quest to empower the NC’s.

First the results (or the lack thereof):

-- Region A- West Valley included single day of voting for 11 NCs coordinated with staffing set at 3 or more. A total of 45 poll workers, 3 supervisors, 14 vehicles, 2 re-supply vehicles, 2 phone rooms and 7 operators. The commitment of the City Clerk’s office has been noble.

-- 11 NC's had elections for a total of 2026 votes were cast. In many of the NC’s, over 50% of the candidate slots were unopposed or empty. With 192 board seats up for grabs, there were 182 certified candidates, 34 write-in candidates for a total of 216 candidates. The range of votes was from 47 to 565 (over a 6 hour period).

-- Staffing was 3 or 4 City clerk employees. So running the staffing numbers, 3 staff members were needed to run a 6-hour election with 47 to 96 votes Total. That is an average of less than 5 votes per person, per hour.

-- In total, with a staff of 48, that is an average of 4.4 staff members per NC or each election had about 1 city clerk per 42 votes. Spread over a 6-hour cycle, that is an average of 7 votes per hour per person. And they were short staffed?

The money being spent per vote is even more frightening if the same trend continues for the balance of the NC elections.

According to the results, we had 11 NC's with a total of 2026 votes. That is an average of 184 votes per NC. 184 votes times 89 NC’s will equal 16,376 votes with $1,905,000 budget. Reminder ZERO was spent on outreach.

How does it feel to spend $21,404 per NC for elections that had 47 votes? Or even 565 votes? That is $116.33 PER VOTE!!!

For that I can pick you up in a limousine, buy you a very nice dinner- with money left over for a community beautification project to boot.

However, none of the logistical support will change a flawed and extremely expensive plan that is unheeded, excludes vote by mail, prohibits NC member involvement with their council’s elections and mandates expensive paid staff.

None of the expenses were funneled into a visibility, outreach or a coordinated communication plan- all promises that were the integral reason to have the City Clerk run the elections.

The fix?

• Give the NC elections back to the locals with standard election procedures and one on- site City Clerk.

• Maximize local NC volunteers in their district.

• Partner with schools and make it a civic project.

• Fund a community organization’s pet project with $500 seed money if they provide 10 volunteers. (Even a paid beer bust for the volunteers would be a very cheap deal compared to the tab being presented).

• Use a partner that helps organize election participation like League of Women’s Voters.

• Let the NC’s pre-register voters and have extensive vote by mail and Internet voting by a community vendor.

In effect, unleash every tool to get folks involved in the local process and support grass roots participation in a cost effective way.

Other groups can do it? Why not the City of LA?

Here is an example: Restore Equality 2010, the campaign working to repeal California Proposition 8 via the ballot box this year, announced today that it is now collecting digital signatures for its November 2010 ballot effort.

Using an application developed by Verafirma, a Silicon Valley technology company, California voters will now be able to sign the petition via an iPhone or iPod Touch, joining the hundreds of thousands of Californians who have already signed paper ballots.

"California is known for being a state that leads change," said Sean Bohac, Chair of the Restore Equality 2010 Statewide Advisory Panel. "Our team looks forward to using this revolutionary technology to augment our grass roots efforts and change the way campaigns are run.

With an iPhone or iPod Touch, voters can access the Verafirma tool and use their finger to sign the official petition. An electronic copy is sent to the signer and Restore Equality 2010, who will then file it alongside the handwritten petitions.

"In California we sign contracts, bank transactions, and credit card purchases electronically. We are excited to use this same tool in the referendum process" said Bohac. "Verafirma takes direct democracy out of the hands of millionaires, who qualify initiatives by paying professional signature gatherers, and literally puts it in the hands of California voters."

Or we can cut NC’s funding by $21,404 per council and repeat the same sad results again in the next cycle.

And we can continue to wonder why the City is almost bankrupt and no one is participating?

There must be a better way

(J. Russell Brown is president of the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council -  DLANC.)

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