"People's words are being manipulated."
- Kelly Sooter, Former NWNC Board Member
When former Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander was indicted last March by federal prosecutors as part of the ongoing City Hall Corruption Scandal, attention immediately shifted to his successor, John Lee. As Englander's Chief of Staff, Lee was part of the entourage that visited Las Vegas as guests of "Businessperson A." The perks that Lee and the rest of the group were offered included casino chips, a $2,481.00 dinner, $34,000 worth of bottle service, and female escorts.
While his name does not appear in the indictment, Lee is widely considered to be the person referred to as "City Staffer B." According to the plea agreement signed by Englander, "City Staffer B" coordinated testimony with his boss in an attempt to cover up any crimes that were committed. This person also obstructed justice by purposefully postdating a check to obscure the actual date that a partial reimbursement was made to "Businessperson A."
During the summer, several neighborhood councils located within Lee's Council District 12 attempted to shed light on how their representative was involved in the growing scandal. This effort received pushback from supporters of Lee who were willing to look past the documented incidents of corruption. They argue that the criminal standard of "innocent until proven guilty" should be applied and his constituents have no right to ask questions unless Lee is accused by federal authorities and then convicted of these crimes. In their view, asking the councilman about his participation on the trip to Vegas is not an exercise in oversight but an attempt to overturn the results of an election.
One of those opposed to holding Lee accountable for his actions is Kathleen Edwards. Instead of recognizing the ethical concerns raised by a trip to vegas funded by a businessman, Edwards accuses those asking questions of using "intimidation tactics...to unseat any official who does not align with their 'Progressive,' national agenda". She also used an anti-Semitic trope, invoking George Soro's name in an unsubstantiated claim that the billionaire is funding a grassroots organization, West Valley Peoples Alliance (WVPA), that is urging Lee to disclose the level of participation in his former boss' activities.
As an elected member of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council (NWNC), Edwards has continued her attacks against those whom she disagrees with during meetings of this government entity. Edwards has repeatedly derided those expressing a different opinion than hers as "outsiders" and argued that their opinions should not be heard by the council.
According to information provided by Kelly Sooter, at the time a member of the NWNC, during the October meeting of the council, Edwards' attacks on public speakers continued after the meetings had ended. Without providing any proof, she classified those speaking in favor of holding Lee accountable as being part of "national political activist organizations'' and stated that they were not "REAL stakeholders." She also stated that she knew "with confidence who was and who was not an NWNC stakeholder". To accurately make such a statement, Edwards would have had to have researched where each speaker lived, worked, owned property, attended religious services, and participated in non-profit organizations.
Edwards was also accused of making changes to the minutes of the August meeting that were factually inaccurate. As an example, Patty Glueck, a constituent of the NWNC, was said to have "expressed concern about people from the WVA [sic] attending a recent NWNC meeting, although they do not reside or work within the NWNC boundaries." According to Glueck, she "definitely didn't express 'concern' about people from the WVPA or any other group speaking at the meeting." Instead, she had reported to the representative from DONE that "people were told [at the previous meeting] that they aren't NWNC stakeholders so they should not be allowed to speak." She was disagreeing with this action as "an unfriendly thing to do."
When confronted about the inaccuracy of her changes, Edwards went on the attack. She accused her fellow board member of aligning with "efforts to get [her] to quit or be censored [SIC] and of being "determined to see OUR Councilman removed for the sake of [a] political agenda." She also expressed a view that "people who are politically biased, who have campaigned for, endorsed, and who were opponents of Councilman Lee" should not be "held on the same 'unbiased' platform as our REAL independent NWNC stakeholders".
The Code of Conduct for neighborhood councils states that "Board Members should treat other Board Members and members of the public with respect regardless of the other's opinion" and that "Board Members should not engage in 'bullying' or harassment". While DONE has tried to stifle the speech of neighborhood council members who wanted to call for accountability, these City of Los Angeles bureaucrats have been publicly silent about Edwards' violation of the Code of Conduct.
After the October meeting, three members of the NWNC resigned, one stating that "one of the reasons...was the lack of support from Councilman Lee's office and the city." Sooter also left along with the Board's president. In her place, Abby Bailes was made president. Bailes has previously defended Edward's anti-Semitic statements and attempted to use the neighborhood council system to put together a town hall featuring speakers that opposed sex education and held bigoted views against the LGBTQ+ community.
If you are a constituent of the NWNC and believe that you deserve better representation than you are receiving, this is one of the neighborhood councils that is holding elections in 2021. Edwards' seat is one of many that will be on the ballot throughout the city. Information about running to represent your neighborhood can be found on the City Clerk's website. All elections will be held by mail and require a separate voter registration than regular elections. It is also important to note that constituents do not have to be citizens in order to vote.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.