At her first appearance in the Valley on Thursday, Carol Baker Tharp – the new general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment – pledged to enhance the effectiveness of the city’s commitment to “backyard democracy.” “I know exactly what you’ve been through,” Tharp said, citing her decades of experience in neighborhood councils and other grass-roots organizations. “I want to get rid of the stuff we hate,” she said, referring to the bureaucratic hurdles and internal problems of the councils themselves. With a $4.3 million dollar budget and a 51-member staff overseeing 88 neighborhood councils, Tharp heads an agency that has come under fire from neighborhood councils across the city for its sometimes paternal air. Volunteer council members also complain about the seemingly endless form-filing required from the all-volunteer neighborhood council members. Jill Banks Barad is president of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council and the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, a coalition of about 30 neighborhood councils throughout the valley. “It just takes an inordinate amount of time for me to do what they ask,” Barad said about the amount of paper work required for official business. “They tend to make it more difficult and you kind of live in fear that they’re going to punish you.” Scores of neighborhood council elections were canceled last year due to procedural problems, she said. Some of the criticism has been leveled at the neighborhood councils themselves. Complaints include infighting at meetings, conflicts of interest and a lack of diversity in membership. In November, City Controller Laura Chick released an audit of DONE, stating that it lacked the explicit authority to give the neighborhood councils proper training, expertise and outreach. But some neighborhood council members believe that what is needed at DONE is not more power, but a cultural change in how it interacts with the neighborhood councils. [email protected] (818) 713-3329160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!