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From the LA TIMES

Villaraigosa proposes merging 2 city agencies to save $2 million

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Monday he hopes to shave $2 million from the city’s budget by folding the department that oversees the network of 90 neighborhood councils into another agency. The plan would push the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, created by voters more than a decade ago to increase citizen participation at City Hall, into the Community Development Department, which oversees the distribution of federal grant funds. That move could draw a legal challenge from backers of neighborhood councils, who contend the City Charter calls for a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

“I would be surprised if this is legal, and I would be surprised if the city attorney has been asked about this,” said Greg Nelson, who ran the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment from 2001 to 2006.

Nelson warned that neighborhood councils would be “the stepchild of a much larger department” under the proposed arrangement. A spokesman for City Atty. Carmen Trutanich did not immediately comment.

But Councilman Richard Alarcon pointed out that the City Charter prohibits the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment’s duties from being transferred to another agency only during the first five years of its existence. After that, the department can be moved into another agency by city ordinance, he said.

“I think it can be done legally,” Alarcon said of the mayor’s proposal.

Villaraigosa released a statement Monday saying the merger would eliminate 27 jobs and place the network of neighborhood councils into a “more efficient” department that works better with neighborhoods.

“The consolidation effort will not only create cost savings, but will serve to take the bureaucracy out of community empowerment,” he said in the statement.

The proposal led to the announcement by BongHwan Kim that he will resign by June 30 as head of the Neighborhood Empowerment Department. Richard Benbow will run the renamed Department of Community Development and Neighborhood Empowerment, according to the mayor’s statement.

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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