Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

After a heated discussion on when the policy should apply, City Councilmembers nonetheless voted unanimously to enact an ordinance barring close family members of sitting City Councilmembers from serving on any City board, commission or task force.

This policy suggestion came out of a City Council Ad Hoc Committee staffed by Councilmembers Kristin McCowan, Phil Brock and Gleam Davis, which is dedicated to reexamining the structures of boards and commissions. 

In the most recent Nov. 9 City Council meeting, members also discussed several other points emerging from the Ad Hoc Committee including reducing the membership of and potentially consolidating certain boards and commissions.

The anti-nepotism policy was first brought up in a May 11 Council Meeting and is roughly based on a similar ordinance in place in Beverly Hills. It is designed to reduce undue influence of City Council members on the recommendations made by boards and commissions. 

While the concept of an anti-nepotism policy was universally approved by Councilmembers, the speed at which it must be applied was the subject of controversy.

The debate centered around the sole individual—Michael Soloff—who will be immediately affected by the position. Soloff is a housing commissioner, who by the accounts of several City Councilmembers is highly effective in his position. Soloff is also Mayor Himmelrich’s husband and although he was appointed to the Housing Commission prior to Himmelrich’s City Council election, must step down from his position. 

Councilmembers Brock and Negrete were sympathetic to his abrupt dismissal and favored having the policy apply to all new appointees immediately and to current appointees once they have finished serving their term.

“We’re putting a nepotism policy in 146, 147 years after the City was founded,” said Brock. “I think there is room to have some flexibility in this for the good of residents who have been involved all these years.”

Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Kristin McCowan were strongly opposed to adjusting the policy on account of Soloff. 

“I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the fact that this has been so overly personalized,” said McCowan. “We cannot target a policy or when it takes effect based on one person. I don’t understand this.”

With the nepotism policy enacted, Council is turning its attention to other acts of reform and improvement to boards and commissions. 

A public hearing was recently held by the Ad Hoc Committee to solicit opinions on term limits, board and commission consolidation, council members as liaisons, youth and diversity on boards and commissions, and input from commissioners on future appointments to those Commissions.

Based on that feedback and discussions at the Nov. 9 Council meeting, City Council is considering several changes, including recommendations that the Arts Commission be reduced from 11 members to 9 or 7 and the Urban Forest Task force be reduced from 9 to 7 members. Council members will continue to discuss boards and commission reforms both in the Ad Hoc Committee and future Council meetings. 

Clara@smdp.com