Word To The Wise: In Support of Our Commissions

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It Is What Makes Davis Uniquely Davis

By E. Roberts Musser

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The night of Oct. 5, 2010, the City Council surprisingly decided to go ahead and appoint candidates to the various existing city commissions. Yet in a previous “Subcommittee Report” it was stated “With new appointments pending in the next few weeks, this is the best window of opportunity to restructure commissions”. This specific comment referred to the Sept. 21, 2010 City Council agenda item to consolidate city commissions in Davis from 20 commissions to 13. It would have ultimately eliminated more than a third of all commissioners. The targeted commissions that would have been effected were:

 

  • Senior Citizens Commission
  • Social Services Commission
  • Human Relations Commission
  • Planning Commission
  • Historic Resources Commission
  • Safety and Advisory Commission
  • Bicycle Commission
  • Tree Commission
  • Open Space and Habitat Commission
  • Natural Resources Commission
  • Telecommunications Commission

I felt there was a good chance I was not going to be reappointed to the Senior Citizens Commission, because I had strongly opposed the “merger” idea. I have also been at odds with many of the City Council members at various times. Also, the fight to save the Davis Senior Citizens Commission was led by me four years ago. I knew the history of the troubled Human Relations Commission, in which commission members were arbitrarily removed by the City Council en masse at will. To put it succinctly, all commissioners serve at the pleasure of the City Council. But in a Letter to Editor in the Davis Enterprise, I reminded the subcommittee which proposed the “merger” idea that the City Council members serve at the pleasure of voters.

In consequence of the upcoming commission appointments and not knowing if the “merger” issue was dead and buried, I made the following comments at the Oct. 5, 2010 City Council meeting:

“I am attorney Elaine Roberts Musser, Chair of the Davis Senior Citizens Commission, speaking as a private citizen. I applaud the City Council for moving forward with commission appointments and wisely tabling any decision to merge commissions.

When considering the "merger" issue, please factor into the cost equation the MONEY, EXPERTISE and ADVANTAGES commissions bring to the table. Some examples:

  • The Tree Commission brought grant money to the city, which Davis would not have been eligible for if there had not been a stand alone Tree Commission.
  • If there were no Historical Resources Management Commission, historical building owners in Davis wanting to make alterations would have to apply to a state agency for permission to make changes.
  • As Chair of the Davis Senior Citizens Commission, Chair of the Triad Task Force, and Vice-Chair of the County Commission on Aging, I facilitated a $25,000 grant from SACOG to provide Transit Mobility Training to Davis seniors. This project was the brainchild of Tansey Thomas, a Davis Senior Citizens Commissioner. We formed a 2 person subcommittee to bring this project to fruition. I then moved the project forward at the county level, to include the cities of West Sacramento and Woodland. Despite harsh economic times, a $75,000 grant will be awarded by SACOG to continue Transit Mobility Training in Yolo County. So that is at least $50,000 in grant money brought into the city through the efforts of two Davis Senior Citizens Commissioners.
  • To merge the Davis Senior Citizens Commission would eliminate its seat on the County Commission on Aging, chaired by Jim Provenza – a stellar advocate for seniors. Yet West Sacramento and Woodland would retain their seats, because both have Senior Commissions.
  • I have provided free legal advice to the Davis Senior Citizens Commission, and to Davis seniors in crisis as the only lawyer member of the Yolo County Multidisciplinary Team.
  • Our Davis Senior Citizens Commission worked tirelessly to push for approval of the Carlton Plaza Davis assisted living facility – a facility that will bring in tax revenue and 100 new jobs. I asked Carlton to share their bus service with the neighboring ERC senior facility.
  • Our commission contains a lawyer (myself), a water expert, a commissioner experienced in data analysis, a public administrator, all volunteers donating their time free of charge. The City Council chose each commissioner for good reason, because of the outstanding expertise we offer.

Thus I strongly urge the City Council to preserve all its current commissions, so the city can retain the untold benefits provided to Davis, which far outweigh any ostensible cost savings.”

To my surprise and delight I was reappointed to the Davis Senior Citizens Commission, as was Tansey Thomas. Both of us were stalwartly opposed to the “merger” idea. I am very grateful to Council members Sue Greenwald, Joe Krovoza, Rochelle Swanson and Steve Souza for approving the reappointment of both Tansey and myself.

Our commission at its regular Oct. 14, 2010 meeting consulted with our excellent City Council liaison Sue Greenwald. We wanted to determine if the “merger” issue was truly “off the table” or still under consideration. Sue indicated as far as she was aware, the issue was probably “off the table”. But as she so wisely noted, it can always be brought back again. Most of our commissioners are prepared to mobilize in force if the “merger” idea should rear its ugly head again. There are others from the various commissions who feel the same way. Concerned citizens behind the scenes are also ready to come back in force if necessary.

I want to commend David Greenwald for staying on top of this issue, with his many helpful articles on the subject. His probe into the underpinnings of what was truly going on with respect to the push to eliminate the Senior Citizens Commission were an example of outstanding investigative reporting. It is my belief his articles made a huge difference to good effect (if one was opposed to the “merger“ idea!). Great appreciation goes to the Davis Enterprise for accommodating my request to print my Letter to the Editor immediately upon submission – so its appearance occurred prior to the City Council making any decision on the “merger”. A special thanks to our city staff liaison Maria Lucchesi, who warned our commission as soon as she learned the “merger” item was on the agenda.

It was really amazing how quickly various forces were able to mobilize to thwart a cynical and ill advised attempt to cut down on public participation in local governance. I find it heartening that our citizens are determined to remain very engaged in civic debate and keep track of what is going on at the local political level. The citizens of Bell found out all too late the price a municipality’s residents literally may have to pay if they remain too apathetic. I doubt those living in Bell will make that same mistake again.

Lesson to be learned

Remain engaged and speak out with respect to local issues. Pay close attention to what your federal, state and local politicians are doing. Any individual citizen speaking out is apt to have more effect or make a greater difference at the local level.

Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.

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5 thoughts on “Word To The Wise: In Support of Our Commissions”

  1. JustSaying

    Excellent summary of many benefits provided by our commissions. The mayor’s sneak attack on the commission structure and his some of his other recent initiatives suggest he’s a carrying around a get-even hit list to implement on his way out the door.

    I support the recent suggestion about holding joint meetings/hearings when two commissions are evaluating the same project. This would help efficiency as well as allow commissions to hear broader ranges of citizen opinion and specialist reports.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    JustSaying: “I support the recent suggestion about holding joint meetings/hearings when two commissions are evaluating the same project. This would help efficiency as well as allow commissions to hear broader ranges of citizen opinion and specialist reports.”

    I agree with this statement, and joint meetings are already happening between commissions. The Social Services and Senior Citizens Commission are working on reviewing the city’s Universal Design Policy. Joint meetings work very well, and city staff are extremely helpful with facilitating them, as are City Council liaisons.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    Correction: Received updated information from Unitrans and Paratransit Inc. $80,000 was awarded to a four county area, including Yolo County, for Transit Mobility Training. How much will go to Yolo County, and specifically to Davis, is unclear. It is the hope of Paratransit Inc. to at least provide Transit Mobility Training to those seniors who signed up for it last time, but could not be accommodated bc the funding ran out.

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