City unfreezes Echo Park council funds but some skepticism remains*

logoBy Tony Cella

The Echo Park neighborhood council this week completed paperwork  to fund some neighborhood improvement projects and pay off some bills after it was able to tap into $30,000 in funds that has been frozen by the city.

After cutting access to the funds last fall, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the city agency that oversees neighborhood councils,  unfroze the funds this week after  the current board members of  the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council submitted missing financial reports from six quarters. In June the members of the council will undergo training on the financial rules for neighborhood councils. The training will focus on teaching council members the fiscal responsibilities of sitting on the board, according to DONE Project Coordinator Melvin Canas.

“New members may not know the rules and dynamics of the council,” he said.

Ari Bessendorf, president of the council, said the council had begun issuing grants now that funds could be tapped and was beginning to form the next budget. Bessendorf described the council’s efforts to unfreeze the funds as “herculean” and said the local governing body was prepared to serve the community.

Other priorities included finding a new meeting space because the previous site was not in compliance with the building code, which burdened the council with fees.

“We’re under new management,” he said.

Stakeholder Ida Talalla, a critic of the previous leadership, remained skeptical of the  governing body. She pointed out that the council’s funds had been frozen before and members of the current council had been subject to retraining after past instances of fiscal non-compliance. Talalla also accused the president of opaque governing because he did not present the official letter from the city declaring the fund open.

She called for the council to be de-certified because of the mismanagement of funds. “To be in that state and not be fiscally incompetent? Then I don’t know what is,” she said.

Bessendorf acknowledged the previous council’s mistakes and that members of the council had been through the training process before. But he felt that the council had made substantial improvements and contributions to the community. He pointed to helping fund library clean-ups and issuing grants to local schools and recreation centers.

“We wouldn’t have our funds unfrozen if we weren’t doing something right,” he said.

Canas could not confirm the number of board members who had gone through the retraining process, but said the city offers training to all new board members and expected to see familiar faces.

“I wouldn’t doubt that they have gone through orientations in the past,” he said.

With its funds unfrozen, the Echo Park neighborhood council will  hold a townhall meeting  on Saturday, May 18 to help shape its budget for the next year. The meeting will be a chance for the community to brainstorm where the board of governors will allocate its budget for the next year, Bessendorf said.  He encouraged community groups, artists and any underfunded entities in the area to come so they can make use of the council’s funds and ability to work with the city to use public property.

“We’re looking for people to help us in our outreach mission,” Bessendorf said. “We’re looking for things that have lots of impact in the community.”

The budget town hall will be held on Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m.  in the Echo Park Recreation Center, 1632 Bellevue Ave.

* Correction: A previous version of this story said the council’s funds were unfrozen this week. That’s wrong. They were unfrozen in April but the council completed the paperwork this week to spend the funds.

Tony Cella is a freelance reporter that has covered crime and grime in Los Angeles, New York City and the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.  Click here to contact Cella with questions, comments or concerns.

One comment

  1. There is a GEPENC Budget & Finance Committee meeting this evening (7 p.m., St. Paul’s Cathedral). I would suggest that “training” also include DONE’s Melvin Canas.

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