Santa Monica’s 24 different commissions, committees, and boards can create a bit of a civics soup, which is part of why Councilmembers voted on a series of reforms for these bodies.

Following motions passed in a Dec. 14 City Council meeting, three commissions will be consolidated into one, staff will research more cost-effective ways to support boards and commissions and a new civility policy and training process will be developed.

Councilmembers also voted to have staff write a resolution to enact several reforms previously approved by Council. These include reducing the Urban Forest Task Force from nine to seven members, reducing the Arts Commission from eleven to nine members, and establishing Councilmember liaisons to support the work of boards and commissions.

Both the old and new recommendations came out of a City Council ad hoc committee, composed of Councilmembers Gleam Davis, Kristin McCowan and Phil Brock, who have met repeatedly since spring 2021 to study ways to improve boards and commissions.

The biggest new change coming out of the meeting is the decision to consolidate the Social Services Commission, Commission on the Status of Women and Commission on the Senior Community.

While Councilmembers noted that there may be collaborative benefits from these commissioners working together on human services related issues, the key motivation was the budget challenges of assigning staff to support these groups.

Councilmemembers did, however, reject a recommendation to also combine the Disabilities Commission into this new body.

“It’s my perception that people with disabilities pose peculiar and special problems,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. “I think the City needs a Disabilities Commission to advise us about issues relating to disabilities… I understand combining some commissions, but I just believe this one is separate and unique.”

According to the staff report, it would cost $238,881 in additional funding in order to maintain four separate commissions and $300,048 to also offer remote public participation at these meetings.

“Who do I look in the eye and say you no longer have a quarter of a million dollars to actually do programs for homelessness, programs for youth, programs for seniors, because we have to have staff people staffing commissions? So for me, it was staffing versus real work being done and it was a hard decision,” said Davis, explaining why she supports the consolidation.

In response to this funding challenge, Davis made a motion to direct staff to research more cost effective ways to support Boards and Commissions, which was passed unanimously.

Councilmembers also unanimously agreed to direct staff to develop a new civility policy for boards and commissions and an accompanying training program for chairs and vice chairs.

“Certain members of boards and commissions were not being civil to their colleagues,” said Davis, explaining the impetus for such a policy. “That and second, there were members of the public, who have every right to attend meetings and have every right to express themselves, but chose to do so in such a way that derailed the commissions (from) achieving the goals that they had set forth.”

Separate from the ad hoc committee’s reform recommendations, Council also voted to alter the powers and structure of the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission. This was part of a previously approved settlement agreement with the Santa Monica Police Officers Association.

On July 23, the SMPOA filed an unfair labor practice charge against the City alleging that the City was legally bound to consult with them before creating the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission (PSROC).

At the Dec. 14 meeting, Interim City Attorney George Cardona said that the City does not agree with SMPOA’s claim but believes that settlement is in its best interest.

Per the settlement, the SMPOA will be able to appoint a non-voting member to join the PSROC, as long as this member is selected jointly with the Police Chief and is not an active SMPD officer.

Other changes include clarifications that neither commissioners nor the PSROC’s Inspector General may participate in disciplinary actions or investigations; a requirement that new appointees complete training within 6 months; and a requirement that the PSROC’s reports are submitted to City authorities 72 hours prior to Commission or Council meetings.