City officials are hoping revisions to the rules for joining the City’s Boards and Commissions will spur more involvement in the civic process.
Of the city’s 17 boards/commissions four contain language that effectively requires applicants to be citizens while the other 13 only require some kind of residency for participation and in at least one case, interested applicants have been barred from participating on one board while they would qualify for work on another.
The situation came to light with a recent vacancy on the Santa Monica Library Board and language in the City charter that stipulates applicants must be “electors” in the city.
“We discovered that the language was in there that controlled who participated and who didn’t,” said Director of Library Services Patty Wong. “We had a couple of potential interested people who withdrew because they were residents but they weren’t ‘electors’ and that means they had to be citizens.”
“There shall be a Library Board consisting of five members to be appointed by the City Council from the qualified electors of the City and no member of said Board shall hold any paid office or employment in the City government,” reads the charter.
The Library Board, Personnel Board, Airport Commission and Commission for the Senior Community have explicit citizenship requirements. The Social Services Commission lacks clarity on its participation requirement but could be interpreted to require citizenship. Other groups only require residency, work, property ownership or a business license.
Rules governing the boards/commissions can be located in the City Charter, Municipal Code or an ordinance. As the Commission for the Senior Community is governed by the Municipal Code, removing its elector rule would just require action by the Council. However, the remainder of the rules are located in sections of the Charter and would require a public vote.
Including Task Forces, non-profit appointments, and District Boards, Santa Monica has 24 organizations that make recommendations to the City Council. The 171 members of the various groups cover the Airport, Architectural Review, Arts, Audit, Building and Fire-Life Safety, Clean Beaches and Ocean Parcel Tax, Disabilities, Downtown Santa Monica, Environment, Housing, Landmarks, Library, Personnel, Planning, Recreation and Parks, Redevelopment, Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica Travel and Tourism, Senior Community, Social Services, Status of Women, and Urban Forest.
Wong said her board isn’t as competitive as something like Planning Commission and the stricter rules make it more difficult to fill vacancies when they arise.
“This is actually, we hope, a suggestion to council that this is a nice way of cleaning up language that is probably a little dated and as a community we wanted to really make sure that it was inclusive as of many different kinds of people as possible.”
She said the Library has a strong commitment to be as representative of the community as possible and to be as diverse as possible.
She said the information item published is informative in nature but it will be up to Council to decide if they want to pursue changes to the system.
“We hope it will be a good conversation for council in terms of rethinking things to be more in the spirit of equity in the city,” she said.