BongHwan Kim, head of the city agency in charge of neighborhood councils, abandoned his run for the 13th District City Council seat Monday, and announced his resignation to take a job in San Diego.
He will become vice president and executive director for civic engagement at the San Diego Foundation. His resignation takes effect Aug. 4.
Kim, who served as general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), had hoped to become the first Korean-American to sit on the City Council, replacing termed-out mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti for the 13th District.
In an interview with Patch, Kim said infrastructure repair was at the top of his list when he began working at the department, which oversees the 95 neighborhood councils in Los Angeles. He characterized the system as a "teenager" in need of new guiding principles, reinvigorated outreach and support from the mayor's office and Los Angeles City Council.
"The mayor and the City Council must invest more in making public participation a driving force for improving neighborhood councils' effectiveness," Kim said.
"The incumbent mentality has infiltrated too many neighborhood councils," Kim said.
In his resignation announcement, sent in the form of an e-blast to "friends and colleagues," Kim said:
The timing of this opportunity at the San Diego Foundation collided at exactly the same moment as my plans to become the first ever Korean-American city councilman running on a public participation vision. I saw how quickly the message of local empowerment was resonating with people across the city as well as in the 13th District...
Leading the Department over the past five years has been the most challenging, yet inspiring, experience of my professional life. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish during this time in building a more stable foundation for neighborhood empowerment.
Kim served as a mayoral appointment. He had told friends and acquaintances that he planned to resign soon for the City Council race.
Deputy Mayor Larry Frank was already in discussion with possible temporary and permanent replacement candidates. Kim said he is not aware of any immediate candidates for his job but recommended that the candidate have neighborhood council experience and come from outside the City Hall infrastructure. He identified leadership training, outreach, revised by laws and increased support from City Hall as four priorities a new general manager should have.
Linda Lucks, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, wished Kim luck but anticipated a rocky turnover with elections just a few months away.
"This is a critical time for Neighborhood Councils as many of us, including Venice Neighborhood Council and Mar Vista Community Council reach our ten-year anniversaries and city wide Neighborhood Council board elections begin in August," Lucks wrote in an email to Patch. "A loss of leadership and staff now is a blow because the integrity of elections is crucial and due to fiscal constraints some positions are not replaceable. In addition, Mayor Villaraigosa is termed out in a year and general managers serve at the pleasure of the mayor. A search takes time and the job of general manager of DONE is complex and very political."
Studio City Neighborhood Council President John Walker, who worked closely with him through many complex issues in Studio City, said, "BH was a remarkable leader for the empowerment of Neighborhood Councils and thus, all citizens throughout Los Angeles. I will miss him, both personally and professionally and wish him well in his continued journey."
And vice president of the Studio City Neighborhood Council, Lisa Sarkin, added, "BH will be sorely missed."
Some Neighborhood Council leaders welcomed the upcoming change in command. Joseph Riser--of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council-- said neighborhood councils were worse off after Kim's tenure as general manager of DONE.
Riser pointed out that Kim was originally appointed to serve under previous DONE General Manager Carol Baker Tharp as a "process" person responsible for clarifying and enforcing rules and procedures.
He said Kim's tenure was marked by a focus on enforcement rather than empowerment.
"Mr. Kim hasn't been that 'visionary'--looking for ways to improve the intended work of [neighborhood councils] by making them more stakeholder-friendly, or a place to convene the opinions of all affected stakeholders. The loss of that vision was the first step in many local [neighborhood councils] also losing their way and eventually getting into trouble with DONE. Instead, Mr. Kim has concentrated in recent years--aided by the City Attorney's office--on making these barely-elected boards the only voice of a community, rather than the convener of transparent meetings where the full neighborhood can reach a democratic consensus," Riser said. "That focus on cookie-cutter 'rules' has merely equipped boards with better weapons to beat each other over the head with--sually during meetings that few if any stakeholders are aware of or attend."
The Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council is currently one of those board who have gotten into "trouble with DONE in the recent years." The board was placed into DONE's exhaustive measures program stemming from frequent in-fighting on the board stemming from accusations of account impropriety.
Kim's resignation letter, which recounts his experience as general manager, is in the adjacent photo box as a PDF document.
Venice Patch editor Paul Chavez contributed to this report.