Tuesday, September 24

Conflict between Westwood interest groups hinders shared goal

The Westwood Business Improvement District, a local nonprofit with a $1.3 million budget, is one of several organizations trying to fill empty store fronts, attract customers and generally revitalize Westwood Village.

Last week, the organization’s board voted unanimously to increase the salaries of two executives within the BID, Executive Director Andrew Thomas and his assistant Eric Norton, by $10,000 and $10,500 respectively.

The decision was met with backlash from a few local community members. But the backlash was largely overblown, symptomatic of insufficient communication and unnecessary conflict among the area’s three interest groups – the Westwood Community Council, the Westwood Neighborhood Council and the Westwood Business Improvement District.

A few figures in Westwood, including Steve Sann, the chairman of the Westwood Community Council, and Philip Gabriel, who owns and operates Scrubs Unlimited, vocally questioned the board’s decision.

These accusations are exaggerated, given that the BID board hired a third party consultant to determine what constitutes fair pay, and made the contracts available for public comment before voting.

The unnecessary arguments between local leaders hampers their ability to work together to improve Westwood, which is each organization’s ultimate goal.

Nonetheless, if the BID can increase transparency and assuage the concerns of other community groups, it should do so. Streamlining the process of executive compensation could bolster the BID’s ability to work constructively with the other groups in Westwood and more easily improve the neighborhood for business owners and residents alike.

For example, the board would benefit from incorporating the renewal process as part of the set budget for the year, and as BID board member Clinton Schudy suggested in The Bruin last week, create a set of criteria that executives must meet before they are rewarded bonuses.

Adding contract renewals and potential salary increases to the budget will allow the board more time to consider the decision in upcoming years. Providing a list of goals for the BID executives to meet offers obvious benefits and gives the organization a long-term plan.

These changes would provide the other Westwood interest groups with an idea of the work the BID hopes to accomplish in the immediate and long-term future. This move toward better communication with the Community and Neighborhood councils will encourage the three groups to work together when their goals align along the same path.

Since all three organizations aim to improve Westwood, there are often times when all would benefit from cooperation. Making the operations of the BID more clear to the public would not only avoid future conflict, but would also increase the likelihood that these three entities can work together toward their shared goal to make Westwood a better place to live, work and visit.

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