By Edwin Folven, 7/19/2012
Mayor to appoint new manager to oversee community councils
The general manager of the Department of Neighbor-hood Empowerment (DONE), which oversees neighborhood councils, announced Monday that he is stepping down to take a position as vice president and executive director for civic engagement with the San Diego Foundation.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed BongHwan (B.H.) Kim as general manager of DONE in 2007, and the mayor’s office will now appoint an interim general manager by Aug. 4, when Kim is scheduled to leave. Peter Sanders, a spokesman for Villaraigosa, said “a thorough search” will be conducted for the next permanent DONE general manager, and issued a statement responding to Kim’s departure.
“While we are disappointed to lose BongHwan Kim as the longtime G.M. for Neighborhood Empowerment, we are excited for his new opportunity in San Diego. In many ways his career working for the city has prepared him for his new role and he will be missed.”
Kim said the opportunity in San Diego came about very quickly and unexpectedly. He added, however, that he was planning to step down by the end of July either way to pursue a candidacy for city council in the 13th District. Kim said that aspiration has also ended with his acceptance of the new job in San Diego. He added, however, that he is proud of his accomplishments at DONE. “Overall, I think the neighborhood council system is probably the most stable it has ever been,” Kim said. “There were a lot of issues we had to fix to realign the neighborhood council system.”
Kim said the main issue was the bylaws for the community councils, which he said were in disarray when he first took the position with DONE. For example, it was not clear what to do about a member who didn’t attend meetings, or what to do if one member had a grievance against another. Kim said uniform bylaws have now been created that apply to all neighborhood councils in the city. He added that under his direction, the partnership between the community councils and city government was strengthened.
“We also dramatically improved the relationships with the neighborhood councils throughout the city,” Kim added. “I think we are now viewed by many neighborhood council leaders as partners.”
Tim Deegan, chair of the Mid-City West Community Council (MCWCC), said he was surprised to learn that Kim was stepping down.
“I liked him and was looking forward to working with him,” Deegan said. “I am disappointed that he will be gone.”
Deegan added that DONE seemed to be very involved in working with the MCWCC’s leadership, and that Kim had sent representatives from the department to MCWCC meetings to help the council operate more efficiently.
“I didn’t see a lack of involvement,” Deegan added. “They were very involved in what we were doing. They were with us and supported us.”
Greg Nelson, the DONE general manager from 2001 to 2006, said he believes the influence of neighborhood councils has become diluted during the past five years. Nelson said he envisioned the neighborhood councils as entities that could challenge or support the ideas of their city council representatives.
“They haven’t become the major force or the damaging threat people thought they would be,” Nelson said. “They haven’t gotten to the point where they can flex their political muscle. I lay a lot of the blame on city hall for turning their backs on public participation. They are pretty much looked at [by politicians] as people who plant gardens, or show up to events and cheer them on.”
Kim disagreed with that assessment, and said many community councils wield considerable power in influencing local leaders. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, recently said he examines all decisions made by the community councils in his district, and although he sometimes disagrees, he values the input. Kim added that there are some exceptions, such as instances when the community councils do not involve the public.
“If there are only five members at a meeting, that’s a problem. If one hundred people are involved in any one issue, they can make things happen,” Kim added. “It’s a work in progress. They have to see themselves as organizers and facilitators.”
Kim said he has enjoyed working with the many diverse communities in the city.
“I will miss Los Angeles,” Kim said. “This position has taught me how great the people are in L.A.”
Tags | DONE B.H. Kim