In 2013 Kerry Morrison Told The City Council That Without City Oversight Of BID Compliance With The Public Records Act “It Is Very Possible That One Of The BID Boards Would Be Sued, Which Would Also Involve The City” — This Despite Decades Of Kerry Morrison’s Refusing To Have Her BID Be Overseen In Any Way — Protesting Any Proposed Oversight Schemes — And Repeatedly Violating The Brown Act And CPRA In Flamboyantly Intentional Ways

It seems that in 2013 the City was considering transferring BID management functions away from the City Clerk to some to-be-created Office of Imaginary Money-Shuffling Practices or suchlike nonsense. Obviously it didn’t happen, but nevertheless we’re still as lucky as can be to have recently discovered a copy of a letter written by Ms. Kerry Morrison, chock-full of her characteristically narcissistic stylings, in support of keeping BIDditude with the Clerk.

Her unwritten point is that the Clerk’s BID unit is already firmly under the thumb of the BIDs,1 and any change would be detrimental to the BIDs, therefore no change should be made, whatever the needs of the City, and these she really does not deign to consider, might be. Her written points are more prosaic, and except for one of these the interest mainly lies in counting her weirdly nonconscious invocation of cliches.2

Her sole interesting point, and it’s interesting mostly for the way it highlights her absolute indifference towards the truth, has to do with one of our favorite topics on this blog, which is the intersection of BIDdology with the Brown Act and the Public Records Act:

Because of litigation that our BID was involved in at the turn of the century, the boards that manage BIDs are now subject to the Public Records Act and the Brown Act. The City Clerk’s staff helps to ensure compliance. Absent this oversight, it is very possible that one of the BID boards would be sued, which would also involve the city of LA.

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to dissect the unselfconsciously sprinkled self-satisfied hermeneutics of this lil cupcake of a prose poem, However, let’s move past the break and consider some of the inaccuracies and omissions. And, of course, there’s also a transcription of the whole damn letter.

The litigation she’s talking about is Epstein v. HPOA, in which, after the BID’s formation in 1996, property owner and BID stakeholder Aaron Epstein wanted to attend board meetings where the spending of his tax money was being discussed but Kerry Morrison wouldn’t let him because she thrives on secrecy and can’t stand any degree of scrutiny whatsover. She provoked the lawsuit through her intransigence and got the City sued as well, presumably because the City wouldn’t make the BID comply.3 So it’s a little rich to see her in 2013 yearning for “[t]he City Clerk’s staff [helping] to ensure compliance.”

Oh, and not only that, but in 2001 the City Clerk decided that it was going to set up a process to investigate stakeholder complaints against BIDs. That is, that it was actually going to oversee BID compliance with applicable laws and contracts. Predictably, perhaps, BIDs freaked out over this, and Kerry Morrison was right up in there moaning about how any such oversight whatsoever would “bring the entire system to its knees.”4 So yeah, she’ll advocate for oversight if it’ll keep the City’s BIDdologists in the Clerk’s office where she wants them, but if advocating for oversight actually means that there might be oversight? No thanks, says Ms. Kerry Morrison!

And then there was that time in 2003 when Ms. Kerry Morrison’s BID was hiring a new security provider. And despite the fact that the freaking Supreme Court of California had told her just a year or two before that she’d better get with the program and abide by the Brown Act, she was again keeping secrets from everyone. And again Aaron Epstein found out what was going on and he wrote this letter to then-City-Attorney James Hahn complaining about the process.

As part of that episode, someone in the Clerk’s office wrote a memo suggesting that they tell Kerry Morrison that Epstein was scrutinizing her actions, and Kerry Morrison subsequently went out and hired a lawyer with BID money to see if there was any way to make Aaron Epstein shut up and stop writing letters to elected public officials. What the lawyer said, probably something along the lines of “get the fuck out of my office, you civically illiterate moron,” is lost to history,5 but Ms. Kerry Morrison subsequently told her Board of Directors that she was going to drop the matter. This was mere months6 before then-Clerk Michael Carey told the L.A. Times that “his office did not have the staff or the inclination to manage the districts.”

A final example out of many such is provided by that time in 2016 when I wrote to City Clerk Holly Wolcott and begged her to get the Downtown Center BID to comply with the Public Records Act as a way to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. And not only did she refuse, but she refused because, according to her:

the Clerk’s office
[does not] have the authority to control/direct the records management practices of the various BIDs which are entities wholly separate from the City.

That is, according to Holly Wolcott, the Clerk isn’t even able to make BIDs comply with CPRA and the Brown Act. This, presumably, is why Ms. Kerry Morrison felt safe in 2013 saying that BIDs relied on such oversight. Because everyone but the City Councilmembers she was writing to, and maybe even them, already knew that no oversight was going to happen. And that’s the story, such as it is. And here’s the letter in its entirety:

March 15, 2013

TO: Honorable Council members and Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Economic Development Implementatation
FROM: Kerry Morrison, Executive Director Hollywood Property Owners Alliance
SUBJECT: Transfer of BID Management functions to proposed Economic Development Department (CF 08-3050)

Greetings. Last week the BID Consortium was briefed by Chris Pearson, Deputy Mayor, as to the plans to shift responsibilities for administering the city’s BID program from the City Clerk’s office to the proposed office of economic development.

While the BID Consortium will not be taking a position one way or the other on this change, concern surfaced that the City Clerk’s Special Assessments Unit may not be transferred intact. Though there is no report generated) as to the proposed staffing configuration, it is very important that the senior, seasoned staff be included in this transfer.

As one of the long-tenured managers of a BID in this city, I must caution the city, in the strongest of terms, to not be short-sighted in failing to transfer the managerial leadership that exists in that division. That managerial leadership equates to institutional knowledge of a system that has grown more efficient over the past decade, despite the complicating factors associated with changes in legislation and, more importantly, litigation impacting assessment districts statewide.

Though the city’s oversight of BIDs sounds like it should be a fairly routine administrative function, the devil is always in the details. I have personally managed five BID renewals, and have been involved in one formation. Each year, this process has become more intricate and frustrating as the city tries diligently to avoid litigation.

1. BID Formation and Renewal:

This year, in particular, the mechanics of forming or renewing BIDs has been complicated by litigation both in LA, and in other parts of the state, that are muddying the waters with respect to what constitutes a general benefit in an assessment district versus a special benefit. When applying these concepts to BID formation in LA, the City Clerk and the City Attorney need to be 100 percent in sync. When they are not, the stakeholders trying to form or renew a BID suffer because decisions are hard to reach.

These are challenging issues; so challenging that a statewide task force of BID representatives, attorneys and assessment engineers are coming together to try to forge statewide consensus to guide BID formation on a go-forward basis.

The technical process associated with establishing a legally defensible boundary scheme and assessment formula (every BID’S formula is unique – there is no cookie cutter BID formula) and then applying it to property characteristics in such a way that there will be no dispute after the property owner receives his or her bill is exceedingly important. Property characteristics have to be verified by City Clerk staff (e.g., building square footage…has a building been demolished or one been built?) and property change of ownership has to be determined so the proper people receive the petitions.

There is tremendous stress inherent in the process of renewing a BID, because every effort is made to create a seamless transition from one BID expiring to the new one forming. There are statutory deadlines that must be followed, and the most important deadline involves making the cut-off for the county Tax Collector to place the assessments on the tax rolls. Failure to meet these deadlines results in the worst-case scenario of “manually billing” for the BID assessment (independent of the property tax bill) which confuses stakeholders and results in lower payment rates.

I cannot imagine tackling BID formation or renewal without a seasoned manager guiding the lower level staff through the myriad decision-points. It would be penny wise and pound foolish to not ensure that transfer those who hold the institutional knowledge find leadership positions in the new department to avoid being tied up in knots with a non-seasoned staff manager.

2. BID Monitoring and Best Practices:

The City Clerk’s office is also involved in monitoring contract compliance between the nonprofit associations that manage the BIDs and the city. This contract compliance process was strengthened at the turn of the century after the failure of the Westwood BID, who had spent beyond the actual stream of assessment revenue received. As a result now, the BIDs must follow specific financial reporting protocols that help to keep us on track. As a citywide program, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Often it is the smaller BIDs, with volunteer or barely paid employees, that cut corners with fiscal policies, or fail to find the time to complete their reports and obligations.

It is too simplistic to suggest that the City Clerk’s staff is involved with managing a fairly uniform group of BIDs across the city. In reality, the staff in the unit is interacting with executive directors working for nonprofit boards, involving hundreds of stakeholders. (For example, imagine that each of the 35+ BIDS have an average of 12 members of their boards – that is an additional 420 stakeholders that are added to the mix. Each of these boards has their own board Treasurer, who may have their own ideas as to how to handle the board’s finances.) To the credit of the leadership in the Special Assessments Unit, they have worked hard to create a set of “best practices” for fiscal and administrative management, and train the BIDs regularly on these issues.

3. Legal compliance:

Because of litigation that our BID was involved in at the turn of the century, the boards that manage BIDs are now subject to the Public Records Act and the Brown Act. The City Clerk’s staff helps to ensure compliance. Absent this oversight, it is very possible that one of the BID boards would be sued, which would also involve the city of LA.

4. Technical improvements:

The administration of the BID program is still rather unsophisticated with respect to how data is transmitted documenting assessments paid. (For example, it can take several months to figure out exactly which parcels have paid what, as this is a system that must be coordinated between the county and the city).

Finally, the BID Consortium has repeatedly asked the Mayor to establish a permanent position of a BID Ombudsmen to help serve as a conduit between the 35+ BIDs in this city and the city departments with which we must partner and work cooperatively. We continue to assert that this is required in order to optimize the effectiveness of the BID program in this city, which raises approximately $44M annually to fund programs and services which improve commerce in the various business improvement districts throughout the city. Similar ombudsmen type positions exist in other big cities in the country, and the size and scope of the city’s BID program warrants similar attention.

I would respectfully ask that before any decisions are made about transferring the Special Assessments Unit to the new economic development department, that a task force of the BID Consortium be consulted. Ultimately, we are the customers of this critical city function, and are in the best position to help city leadership understand the implications of their decisions. Requests should be made at the beginning of the document.

Image of Kerry Morrison is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is some kinda something related to this kinda something.

  1. To whom she both laughably and cluelessly refers to as “customers” of the City’s BID program. Here’s what’s happening with BIDs. The City creates them, the City has unfettered control over their activities, the City funds them with tax money. It looks to me like the City is the customer and the BIDs, well, as Winston Churchill most emphatically did not say, we’ve already established what the BIDs are and now we’re just haggling over the price.
  2. It’s penny wise and pound foolish, the devil is in the details, we’re only as strong as our weakest link, it’s a worst-case scenario, there’s no cookie-cutter formula, decision points, muddying the waters, seamless transition, in the strongest of terms, the turn of the century, she respectfully asks. Although the last is more of a lie than a cliche given that she really has no respect at all. She adopts, as is her wont, the tone of the world-weary (now she’s got me doing it!) entrepreneurial private enterpriser who is shocked (shocked!) at the inefficiencies of the public sector, even as she is relying on the public sector to pass laws enabling her entire BIDdological enterprise, to provide staff to make the enterprise possible, to provide police power to facilitate her project of arresting every homeless person in Hollywood as many times as possible, to coercively collect the funds that pay her salary and make possible every single one of her expenditures, and so on. Such hypocrisy is, of course, nothing new for Ms. Kerry Morrison.
  3. This is an extremely interesting topic, by the way. That is, what did the City think about BID compliance with the Brown Act before Epstein. It turns out that they already thought that BIDs were subject to it, which I have evidence of that I’m hoping to publish in the next day or two. So that means that already, at the dawn of the modern BID era in Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles was refusing to make BIDs comply with the Brown Act and consequently with the CPRA, even though they already knew that they ought to. Not only was the City at that time refusing to make BIDs comply with the law, but they later, in the lawsuit, actually defended the BID’s position that they weren’t subject to this law. Super-weird, innit?
  4. Twelve years earlier and the cliches were teeming as thick as salmon swimming against the current as ever after, eh? When will they ever learn?
  5. This cliche is placed here intentionally in honor of Ms. Kerry Morrison.
  6. Hi Kerry!

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