Archive for November, 2011

Regardless of the size of the neighborhood council allocations the City Council approves in the next budget cycle, possible restrictions on the use of the city-issued purchasing cards may make it all moot.

The situation was discussed at last Saturday’s Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition meeting. B H Kim, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), updated the members.

The cards are currently used for the purchases of goods and services, including monthly and annual operating expenses such as phone messaging, storage, accounting support and web site maintenance.  Non recurring uses for individual services are common for special outreach events – rental of equipment, entertainment – and election activities.

The purchasing card has become the tool of choice for many transactions, because the alternative – the demand warrant – takes months to process….and it is costly to the city.  I have heard it can cost $100 to process one, whether it is for payment of a $10 invoice or $1,000. That point was raised at the meeting; Kim did not dispute it. For that matter, he alluded to the high cost without stating an actual amount.

According to Kim, both City Controller Greuel and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich agree that use of the purchase card for services of any kind is in violation of city policy.  Furthermore, purchases of equipment by neighborhood councils for city departments (including fire and police) require a neighborhood purpose grant.  This type of grant was only instituted last year.

A demand warrant is the only other alternative as it stands now.

Assuming the city has its way, it will be extremely difficult for NCs to operate. 

The reality is that part-time volunteers do not have the time to process the same paperwork paid city department employees handle.  Neither Greuel nor Trutanich can comprehend that rules designed for a bureaucracy do not lend themselves to small, loosely-supported, grass-roots organizations.

Merchants are reluctant to deal with NCs if a demand warrant is involved.  I can’t blame them.  Who would want to wait many weeks or months for payment?

It would also be difficult for NCs to plan events not knowing when or if a vendor will be paid.

Any increase in demand warrant volume will further stress the already unacceptable productivity of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

I am not suggesting NCs should be allowed to use the card for everything under the sun.  The city is right to be concerned with controls, and demand warrants are viewed by some members of the City Council and the City Controller as a means to curb potential misappropriation or fraud.

But when the cost of controls outweigh the benefits, everybody loses – especially the neighborhood councils. 

Actually, that might be exactly what City Hall wants.  After all, the NC system was a bone the electeds tossed to the citizens to dampen secessionist emotions. Promoting grass-roots democracy or generating interest in local government was a secondary objective at best.  Why on earth would officials encourage citizens to have a forum to question their power base consisting of public labor unions and developers?

You can have controls and still allow the purchasing card to be the primary payment mechanism.  For that matter, the less the city is involved, the better.

DONE should be removed from the funding process.  A Financial Standards and Control Board consisting of NC members with the appropriate credentials and experience should assume responsibility for this important function. There are many talented individuals to choose from, including those with industry experience.

The Board would have the power to authorize funding, train treasurers, negotiate with CPA firms to provide services to NCs that lack accounting capabilities and establish reporting requirements.  More importantly, it would need the power to certify, discipline or sanction NCs.

The cost of services provided by CPAs could be funded by a cutback of staff at DONE – those currently responsible for the accounting process – and flat annual fees levied on each NC as determined by the Financial Standards and Control Board.

It would be money well spent. The city does not have the caliber of employees capable of handling neighborhood council finances efficiently, nor does it have the mindset.

Dedicated neighborhood council advocates have fought tenaciously for every modicum of influence the system has.  I hold these people in the highest regard.  They have achieved much with very little. However, I fear that if the city’s latest move comes to fruition, it will discourage participation.  Veteran NC members will eventually move on with no one to replace them.

It may be necessary for neighborhood councils to take an adversarial stance with City Hall.  The alternative is a slow death.


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I saw this with my own eyes.

Wide receiver Stephen Marnette pulled in a touchdown pass with the same authority Shaquille O’Neal would a rebound.

The catch tied the game early in the fourth quarter.  The Spiders’ decimated defense continued to be shredded, however, and the team went down to defeat.

There are two catches featured in this video.  The second one is the touchdown reception.

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Aaron Corp on NFL radar

Despite a poor season where the Richmond Spiders’ starting defensive line was largely lost to injuries and no running game to complement the passing offense, quarterback Aaron Corp is getting a close look from NFL scouts.

I’ve watched him in action three times this season, including this weekend when Richmond played Old Dominion University.

Corp has had to compensate for the weak running game by passing often – even on third and short.  That means the opposing defenses are keying on him, but it hasn’t stopped him from racking a high completion rate and big yards.

Corp warms up last Saturday against Old Dominion. Note the brace on his right knee.

Put Corp on a contending team in the FBS or FCS and he might be considered for some post-season honor.

The last few games will determine his future.

I think he has the right stuff.

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Fall Postcards

October is arguably the best month on the East Coast.

In Virginia, the fall colors reach their peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shenandoah National Park is the most popular destination, but there are other equally stunning segments of the chain. 

Shenandoah National Park: Looking down on the cloud shaded farm lands to the east.

Walking around Old Towne Alexandria is one of my favorite pastimes when I make the two-hour drive up I95 from Richmond to the DC suburbs.  Being joined by my daughter makes it even more special.

We had lunch at Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Pub on King Street.  The entire staff speak with an authentic lilt. The outdoor terrace off the second floor was the perfect place to enjoy the sunny, humidity-free autumn day. I enjoyed the crab cakes and a cold glass of Harp Lager.

Two weeks ago I decided to travel Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park rather than take I-95.  The $15 entry fee to the park was a fair price to pay for one of the most scenic drives on the Eastern Seaboard.

The fall foliage was about a week or so past its peak above 2,000 feet (much of the drive is between 2,000 – 3,000 feet in elevation), but the views were nevertheless impressive.  The road was recently repaved, making my normal LA commuting route of Beverly Glen a cowpath by comparison.

Skyline Drive: 100 miles of serenity

The main tourist center in the park is at Big Meadows, which is about equidistant from the north and south entrances. The Big Meadows Lodge does not match the grand style of the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, but offers a subdued coziness of its own.  The main lounge and the dining room look out over the Shenandoah Valley to the west and offer views of spectacular sunsets.

Big Meadows Lodge dining room

My time was short, but I managed to work in a 1.5 mile hike along the Discovery Trail, the entrance to which is directly across the Loft Mountain Wayside facility. It briefly overlaps the Appalachian Trail and leads to a rocky outcropping from where you can look down on Skyline Drive, a few hundred feet below.

View from the Discovery Trail. The black line in the middle of the picture is Skyline Drive.

The following weekend I visited Leesburg and some of the surrounding farmland.  Leesburg is less than an hour from DC.

I recommend taking the scenic route – the George Washington Parkway to Georgetown Pike, which runs into Route 7. From there, it is about fifteen miles to the historic town. 

My last trip to the region was two years ago. I wrote about it in this blog.

The visitor center has maps showing the location of many wineries within a short drive.  Coupons for free tastings are also available.

Snow had fallen the day before – the same storm that created so much havoc in the Northeast. Fields with a northern exposure still had a couple of inches on the ground.

Farmland adjacent to the Loudoun Valley Winery

I had time to visit two wineries.  In general, I found the reds preferable, unusual for me since I normally lean towards dry white varieties.  The chardonnays were a bit too dry for me.

Waterford is a small town on the outskirts of Leesburg.  It was founded by Quakers in 1733.  The town is designated as a National Historic Landscape.  It is easy to understand why.  Many of the buildings date back to at least the Civil War and the main street is no wider than it was in those days.

Waterford, VA

Just over 150 years ago, the Battle of Balls Bluff was fought. The capture of Leesburg was the objective of the Union Army, hoping to threaten the Confederate position at Manassas, the site of the first major battle of the Civil War just three months before.

If Leesburg fell, it would almost force the Confederates to abandon Manassas.

Typical of the battles in the early months of the war, largely untrained forces fought it out.

The battle was a disaster for the Union, but a small-scale one.  Only about 1,700 men on each side were involved.  The casualty rate was high for the federal troops. Almost one-half were killed wounded or captured.  Many drowned in the Potomac while retreating.

US Senator Edward Baker of Oregon commanded a regiment for the North and was killed in the fighting.  He was a close friend of President Lincoln. Mount Baker in Oregon was named in his honor.

I’m off to Virginia Beach this weekend to visit with friends and watch the Richmond Spiders play Old Dominion University. 

On the way back, I plan on stopping off at Williamsburg and Jamestown, if time permits.

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