Selecting Pacific Palisades Community Council Alternates

By Eric Marshall
Special to the Palisades News

As the impressive bios of our new Community Council Alternate Area Representatives were read at last week’s PPCC meeting, I felt proud about the spirit of service that runs through our community.

That said, the process by which these alternates were appointed remains deeply flawed—that is, if you believe in the basic requirement of a representative government: the consent of the governed.

The primary responsibility of the eight Alternate Area Reps (plus one At-Large Rep) is to vote on behalf of their Area when the elected representative is absent. Given that the PPCC is an all-volunteer body, alternates could vote quite frequently, as councilmembers’ family and work obligations arise.

If alternates hold voting power, surely their selection reflects the will of area residents, right?

Wrong. Under the current process, three former PPCC chairs evaluate applications. The bylaws state that they must consider “input” from the elected Area Reps, but it is the chairs who ultimately select. The nominees are then confirmed, en masse, in a single vote by the council.

What’s wrong with this process? First, while the chairs are devoted public servants, they were not directly elected and are not accountable to Area voters. It was a telling moment during last week’s meeting when the chairs committee revealed that they made their nominations based on who is “best for the Council.” Not who is “best for each Area.”

Second, the nominees were not publicly identified in advance of their confirmation vote, meaning they could not be evaluated by residents, he press, or even the council that was voting on them. Public comment was scheduled after the vote. Again, these are voting positions, where the qualification that should trump all others is the trust and consent of one’s constituency.

This year, the chairs committee was presented with applicants who worked to earn that trust publicly by subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of residents and media during the Area Rep elections. Those candidates (full disclosure: I was one of them) earned measurable—and in some cases undeniable—levels of support from their constituencies. So when an unaccountable executive committee rejects candidates with clear public support in favor of individuals who didn’t run, it’s a slap in the face to voters.

There are, however, several solutions that could give this responsibility to the electorate. Runners-up in the election who come within a reasonable margin of victory could be given first consideration. This would filter out candidates that residents clearly don’t want, while keeping those with strong support.

Or better yet, each newly elected Area Rep could simply nominate his or her alternates. There would be no obligation to consider runners-up, since the Area Rep is directly accountable to voters. And those alternates should absolutely be identified to the public well in advance of their confirmation.

The PPCC speaks for the community, but this board has to improve how it listens to the community. Reforming the appointment process for Alternate Area Reps would be an easy first step and could catalyze more substantial reforms—like independently administered elections—that are necessary to keep the PPCC credible in the eyes of the community and the City of Los Angeles.

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