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UPDATE WITH REACTIONS: Neighborhood Council Boss Resigns for San Diego Job

BongHwan Kim quits race for 13th District City Council seat.

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.

ruth July 17, 2012 at 09:59 PM
'Kim served as a mayoral appointment.' Just what we needed replacing Garcetti..another Villaraigosa Pal.. Villaraigosa, Garcetti, Council Members can't LET GO.They continually try to stack the deck so they can get THEIR agendas through: The Hollywood Community Plan, Redistricting, Massive controversial over developments by their campaign financers.. 'A search takes time and the job of general manager of DONE is complex and very political." WHAT in this City ISN'T POLITICAL? SOME Neighborhood Councils are JUST AS POLITICAL as the corrupt City Council. Members not disclosing that they work for developers , N.C.'s infiltrated to help get their projects done, supporting a Plan that will enable them to. Huge conflicts of interest that everyone ignores... This guy was appointed by Villaraigosa. Why would HE make N.C. Board Members recuse themselves..those employed by the developers that supported Villaraigosa's & Gracetti's campaigns, being used by developers to get their agenda through, serving on more than one board influencing more than one N.C. Enabling politicos and their campaign funders, the developers. N.C.'s have become a breeding ground for the same kind of corruption at City Hall. Until those that run them are NOT Political Appointees, and those ON them not affiliated with a Mayor, or a Mayoral candidate, or City Council Members..The People/Stakeholders will never really have a VOICE. Political decks are stacked against them.
La Casa de Bernarda Alba July 17, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Totally agree with a FICO score of below 300. In my opinion, DONE was poorly run, mismanaged, and inconsistent with their policies, implementation, and enforcement weakened the idealistic goal of the neighborhood empowerment plan for LA.
Alice M. July 18, 2012 at 05:31 PM
In terms of an interim replacement, I wonder what Greg Nelson is doing these days. He certainly knows the job, and putting anyone else from the outside into that seat (other than perhaps a current high-level staffer - if there are any left?), would seem like a waste of a year. He's been brutally honest in Citywatch postings and so on about what's eating these councils now.
nonoise July 19, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Kim was smart in getting out of the race. He would have been badly beaten. He did a very bad job at DONE. I doubt he ever did any work and certainly was not a leader. He saved himself some bad headaches by getting out and trying to save face. There are a lot of unhappy people with this job at DONE.
nonoise July 24, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Mitch is running.

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