VAN NUYS – A long-festering dispute over election delays among neighborhood councils escalated Friday, with the Los Angeles City Council questioning whether the groups’ oversight agency is having a “chilling effect” on the grass-roots system. In the City Council’s third monthly meeting in the Valley, councilmembers said complaints about delays by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment are raising doubts. Those complaints include delays of a planned June 20 election by the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Council. “What concerns me is that it isn’t just Woodland Hills, but there are something like 20 neighborhood council elections that have been delayed,” Councilman Dennis Zine said. “The longer the elections are delayed, the less participation we’ll have. What I’m concerned about is we are creating a situation with nitpicking the procedures and sending a chilling effect that will lead to the entire neighborhood council system falling apart.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2The issue comes even as DONE seeks a new director following longtime leader Greg Nelson’s retirement in April. The neighborhood council system faces a crossroads five years after L.A.’s first neighborhood council was created in San Pedro. The mayor and City Council are putting together a commission to review the entire 87-member neighborhood council system and many community leaders hope it can address long-standing issues that scare off some potential neighborhood council participants – bureaucracy, infighting and, depending on who is commenting, too few or too many rules. And virtually every neighborhood council has chafed under DONE oversight, with its former chief a lightning rod for a department often criticized for bureaucracy and poor communication. Acting DONE General Manager Lisa Sarno said any election delays have occurred because the agency is trying to ensure neighborhood councils follow election procedures developed by a working group of the councils. “We want to make sure we have elections that meet the guidelines and will stand up to a challenge,” Sarno said. But Jill Banks Barad, president of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council and chairwoman of the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, said the problems are longstanding. “We have not gotten responses from DONE in a timely manner so we can make changes to respond to the rules,” Barad said. “I hope that what we’re going through is just a transition. “A lot of us feel there are just too many rules and regulations for volunteers to have to go through. There are too many elections being delayed and it causes disruptions when we try to get things done.” And Zine said much of the problem in the Woodland Hills case was due to delays in getting information. Zine said the group notified the department in January of its plans to hold a June election. In February, the department notified the group of two problems, which were remedied, Zine said. “Then, in May, they got a list of 20 other problems,” Zine said. “It shouldn’t take that long to deal with this when we have people who are volunteering their time to get involved with the neighborhood councils.” Sarno said she would meet with Woodland Hills Neighborhood Council representatives next week to try to resolve the dispute and allow the election to proceed. But Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she also had received complaints from neighborhood councils about delays and believes the department may be trying to impose too many regulations on the volunteer panels. “Most of the problems I see listed can be fixed easily enough and we should allow theses elections to go forward,” Hahn said. Sarno said DONE has been concerned with ensuring neighborhood councils have done the proper public outreach in notifying candidates and have proper procedures in place to guarantee fair elections. Council members said they want DONE to provide a more complete report on the causes of the election delays. [email protected] (213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!