City Council is moving toward barring any close family member of a councilperson from serving on a board or commission — a move that would currently only affect Mayor Sue Himmelrich’s husband.
This suggestion comes from the council’s B&C Ad Hoc Committee, which is composed of Councilmembers Phil Brock, Gleam Davis, and Kristin McCowan and is in the process of reforming and improving how the City’s boards and commissions function.
In a July 27 meeting, the committee brought forth recommendations on a nepotism policy, chair terms, and council liaisons. Council discussed each of these proposals and then directed staff to formally draft all three policies.
The proposed nepotism policy would prevent siblings, children, parents, or partners of a sitting councilmember from serving on a city board, commission, or task force. Councilmember McCowan said this rule is intended to further the City’s efforts to increase transparency.
“This policy is in line with similar efforts to address transparency in government, by limiting lobbyists and others potentially down the road,” said McCowan. “We’ve heard from residents for a while that it might be wise to take up a nepotism policy and we concluded in the ad hoc that this was the appropriate time.”
Previously, in a July 19 meeting, Council directed staff to draft a ban on lobbyists serving on boards or commissions. This proposal was submitted by councilmembers Brock and Parra independent of the ad hoc committee.
If the proposed nepotism policy is approved at a later meeting, Himmelrich’s husband Michael Soloff would have to step down from his position as Housing Commission Chair. Himmelrich recused herself from the policy discussion.
There was debate over whether this rule should take effect immediately or only apply to new appointments. Councilmember Brock was in favor of letting current commissioners’ terms expire before the rule applied to them, while Davis and McCowan thought such an action would undermine the integrity of the rule.
“If we believe it’s inappropriate for a close family member to serve on a board or commission, then we should enact that immediately,” said Davis. “If we’re going to say something, we do it, because otherwise we’re making an exception and saying ‘we believe this, but we don’t believe it until next year’.”
Council ultimately voted unanimously to pass the motion as originally written, meaning the policy would apply immediately.
Councilmember de la Torre made efforts to clarify that this proposal was not forwarded in response to any wrongdoing or bias demonstrated by Soloff.
“I want to, for the record, state that Mr. Soloff was appointed before Councilwoman Himmelrich was elected,” said de la Torre. “And I want to say that he has done an excellent job; I think that he’s been an excellent commissioner for the City.”
Council also passed the ad hoc committee’s motions to look into term limits for chairs and council liaisons for commissions.
The term limit proposal would limit chair terms to two years maximum and would rotate by election. This policy was suggested to alleviate the burden of people being obligated to serve as chair.
Under the proposed council liaison policy, councilmembers would be able to serve as liaisons for two commissions per year.
“Your meeting attendance is not required, you will be serving more as an advisor,” said McCowan, describing the role of liaisons. “Particularly during COVID staff restructuring, we believe this serves as a resource to commissioners and reduces strain on city staff, who are currently still at a reduced staffing capacity.”
During the July 27 meeting, councilmembers also made appointments to fill highly priority vacancies on four commissions. For a second meeting in a row, council delayed the appointments to fill expired or vacant spots on 13 other boards, commissions, and task forces.
Council made the following appointments:
For a three year term on Disabilities Commission: Nasreen Asaria, Nanci Linke-Ellis, Matthew Susman
For a four year term on Disabilities Commission: Caron Block, Carolyn Charles, Evan Nicholas
For a four year term on Landmarks Commission: Gloria Garvin, Amy Green.
For a four year term on Planning Commission: Elisa Paster
For a three year term on Social Services Commission: Kay Ambriz, Ellen Sloan
For a four year term on Social Services Commission: Tamara Kagel, Brian Stedge-Stroud