UPDATE TO THIS STORY CLICK HERE.
After hearing four challenges to the very messy Studio City Neighborhood Council elections, a grievance board decided to invalidate the election of Patrice Berlin and Eric Preven on Monday night for inappropriate electioneering at the voting location.
“The decision is effective immediately,” said Department of Neighborhood Empowerment general manager Gracye Liu on Monday night after the decision was made. She said that DONE reviews the panel’s decision and that there is no appeal process set up to the panel’s decision. Neither Preven nor Berlin were present at the hearing.
The challenges were the first time the new Neighborhood Council Grievance Panel was done in the Los Angeles community activism system. In the past, grievances were handled by one of the 94 local councils with a committee appointed by the council. This time, three council members from another council heard the grievances filed by stakeholders of Studio City. (In fairness of disclosure, I filed two grievances that I will write in detail at about at another time, and both were rejected.)
Preven and Berlin were running in the Employee category specifically to unseat Lisa Sarkin and heralded the end of her “reign of terror” on their website after ballots were counted, and they beat her. The final count was Berlin got 65 votes, Preven got 61 and Sarkin received 52.
With the ouster of Preven and Berlin, Sarkin retains her seat on the neighborhood council, and the next highest vote getter in that category was Keith Schwalenberg, who won 15 votes. Brandon Pender, who previously served on the council, received 8 votes in that category.
Preven wrote Examiner in a statement, “The challenges will certainly be challenged. This will never stand.”
Longtime Studio City resident Stuart Miller challenged Preven, Berlin and Patrick Lewis (who won for the renter’s seat) in violating the rules in the Election Manual. He said, “I personally witnessed prohibited electioneering by candidates Eric Preven, Patrice Berlin…including in the room where votes were actually cast, during the time that the poll was open and that it was carried out at such a high level of volume and intensity that the supervisor of the election proceedings, Stephen Box, had to attempt to remove them from the polling place with equally loud shouts and language. That said, it appeared that several stakeholders waiting in line to vote became disgusted or intimidated by the outbursts and left the building without voting.”
Miller’s challenge and witness statements are online on the DONE website.
The three-panel of judges agreed with Miller and his witnesses who included Studio City Senior Lead Officer of the LAPD Mike Lewis and former neighborhood council member Jane Drucker.
The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment recommended against the challenge and said the charge should be dismissed because their actions do not meet the definition of electioneering. Jay Handal from DONE said that “voter intimidation” is not challengeable as a grievance.
“The rules are the rules and these two candidates violated the rules,” Miller said. The panel was first considering sending a letter to the candidates reprimanding them, but two of them found that the actions were electioneering and voted to invalidate their elections.
Witness Judy Price, who was a volunteer pollworker, in her written statement said Berlin “lingered inside the polling place talking with people” and that “candidate Eric Preven made quite a scene at the registration table drawing the attention of everyone in the area and causing disruption by his loud and boisterous behavior. He then proceeded to the on-line voting room. I heard raised voices coming from the room and then saw Preven exit the room making another scene, waving his arms and shouting angrily.”
Price added, “Another candidate, Patrick Lewis, was in the polling place a number of times. When he first came to my attention, he was at the registration table explainin that he thought he’d mistakenly voted for the other Patrick Lewis.”
A local resident since 1978, Heidi Holicker in her witness statement said there was some confusion when she arrived to vote and another witness, James Kellem, wrote in his statement that he was “blocked by several candidates in the hallway and in the electronic voting room loudly declaring their status as candidates both before and after they voted. I left uncomfortable and left without voting.”
Jane Drucker pointed out, “I observed several candidates in the hallway and in the electronic voting room loudly declaring their status as candidates both before and after they voted. I believe that this constitutes electioneering. I also personally witnesses voters shaking their heads and leaving the line at the polling place as this brouhaha ensured. I was at the polling area as a volunteer from 2 p.m. until 9 p.m. I can only wonder how this may have affected the outcome of the election.”
Another challenge to the election filed by volunteer pollworker Beth Schiffman who said she went into a room where she heard loud voices and Preven “looked at me and as he took a step toward me… in a very loud voice said to me ‘you people need to…’ at which point I tried to cut him off and explain to him that I was not ‘you people’ and that I was a volunteer and neighbor. She said he started yelling.
Gracye Liu and Stephen Box both talked to Preven about his outburst at the polling place, and Liu was at the grievance hearing. Schiffman said Preven still lingered outside when she was finished with her shift and she asked for a policeman to escort her to her car.
Schiffman said Patrick Lewis “expressed frustration as to the confusing process.”
Any argument against Lewis was dropped, but the panel agreed that Berlin and Preven violated the electioneering rules.
The next Studio City Neighborhood Council meeting is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the CBS Radford Studios back lot. It is open to the public and offers free food and drink before the meeting.