Speaking at Monday evening's meeting of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council (ASNC) at Ramona Hall, Mount Washington resident Eliot Sekuler called current board member Joseph Riser's candidacy for the seat representing Sycamore Grove "unethical" and called on him to withdraw from the Oct. 13 election.
Riser currently serves as the board's At Large director for education and youth, at seat he's held since 2010. Before that, Riser served for four years on the board as Hermon representative.
Sekuler--one of the founding members of the ASNC--said that he believes Riser is attempting to take an advantage of new election guidelines--established by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the overseeing body of neighborhood councils--which allows candidates to run for seats in neighborhoods where they don't live or work by staking a factual claim to the neighborhood.
"Should he take over one of Sycamore Grove's two board seats, he would be serving eight consecutive years on the ASNC board and would be the only ASNC board member to hold a seat for that long a tenure," Sekuler said.
He also questioned Riser's motives for running for the Sycamore Grove seat, noting his recent support of an effort by the Hermon Community to secede from the ASNC and form its own neighborhood council.
"His attempt at carpetbagging by grabbing one of Sycamore Grove's two seats is especially alarming in light of his recent effort to lead the Hermon neighborhood in seceding from the [ASNC's] confederation and forming an independent Hermon council," Sekuler said.
Martha Benedict, current President of the ASNC, said she supported Sekuler's statements.
"I agree with Eliot. When the new board is seated in October, Joe Riser will begin his seventh year on the ASNC board with a guarantee of a two-year term. That puts him at double the old limit in the original Bylaws that Joe and Eliot worked on together."
Riser, however, said his candidacy for the Sycamore Grove seat is legal according to both the ASNC's bylaws and DONE's election guidelines.
The bylaws state that Geographic Representatives on the ASNC are only allowed to serve two consecutive two-year terms before giving up their seats. The same rules apply to At Large representatives. However, they do not set any overall term limits for board members.
"The ASNC Bylaws have never limited people to just four years, only four years in the same kind of seat--geographical or at-large," Riser wrote in an e-mail to Patch.
He also defended his support of a Hermon Neighborhood Council, saying it was a product of him listening to stakeholders' desires.
"The Hermon Neighborhood Council is a direct result of empowering one community to seek what's best for it own future representation," he said. "The stakeholders called for it in great numbers, and I answered with the process as outlined by City documents."
Spirit of the Bylaws
Sekuler said that the original ASNC bylaws, which he and Riser helped to craft as two of the board's founding members, sought to limit members from "making a career" out of serving on the board.
"I am dismayed that one of the original organizers of this neighborhood council has chosen to violate the spirit of our organizing group by misrepresenting himself as a voice for the Sycamore Grove community, to which he has no genuine ties," Sekuler said. "Joe Riser’s allegiance to his own neighborhood--Hermon-is well known, and though we cannot know his personal agenda, it appears that he is using changes in ASNC bylaws to skirt the issue of term limits and create a perpetual place for himself on this council. Even if he is in
compliance with the letter of neighborhood council bylaws, his misrepresentation of himself as a Sycamore Grove 'stakeholder' certainly violates their spirit."
Riser said his motives in running for the Sycamore Grove seat were altruistic and referred to his candidate's statement, in which he promised to continue his efforts to enlist new stakeholders and boost involvement in the ASNC.
"If that vision of involvement and outreach to an overlooked area constitutes some kind of agenda, then I only wish more neighborhood council board members came to the table with similar altruistic goals--hidden, or otherwise," Riser said.
Riser said that though he was eligible to run for re-election to his At Large seat, he chose to step aside for another candidate who was younger and "extremely qualified."
By running for the Sycamore Grove seat, Riser said he "was going where he was most needed."
"I started considering other possibilities where I could best serve. About the same time, our second candidate for Sycamore Grove--a business owner--fell through, and a third possibility never materialized," Riser said. "Several times in the past, Sycamore Grove has only been represented by one person, and tackling its size and issues has been overwhelming to that individual, and so they basically did nothing for two years. Many have quit early and had to be replaced by unelected people."
He also noted that he is running unopposed for the seat, with only he and candidate Sergio Vidal-Echeverria vying for the two open Sycamore Grove spots.
Asked what he thought of Riser's professed motives in running for the Sycamore Grove seat, Sekuler said he was unconvinced.
"I have to say, I think what he's saying is patronizing and self-serving," Sekuler said.