Informed and transparent decision-making is an essential pillar of good local governance. In Davis, this pillar is eroding. Recent years have seen multiple alarming instances of secretive action, shortsighted planning, and disconnect between community and leadership priorities.
We the undersigned—including current and former members of city commissions—call on City Council to address these issues. Specifically, we urge swift adoption of the attached common-sense proposals regarding (1) transparency, information disclosure and public engagement, (2) city commissions, and (3) advancement of significant actions and initiatives.
An unparalleled level of civic engagement and civic pride is one of Davis’s greatest strengths. Over 120 Davis citizens participate on city commissions (a term that also includes city boards, task forces, and committees), volunteering substantial time and effort to hear public comments, provide expert analysis, and propose informed actions on the issues that shape Davis’ present and future. In short, commissioners work tirelessly to ensure that the public voice is heard at all levels.
Because they serve as conduits between Davis government and Davis residents, commissioners are sometimes referred to as the “eyes and ears” of the City Council. Unfortunately, distance has grown between the City’s eyes and ears and its core executive bodies. Council and staff routinely make major decisions following only cursory consultation with relevant commissions. In the most egregious cases, such as with the BrightNight lease option agreement, relevant commissions are not consulted at all.
When commissions do have the opportunity to give input, commission perspectives are often given less weight than staff perspectives. This is evidenced in part by the fact that staff representatives regularly participate in Council deliberations on key items, but commission representatives are rarely invited or allowed to participate.
Other challenges further undermine the capacity of city commissions to participate actively in decision making.
First, Council makes very little information available about the nature of its closed sessions. While confidentiality of details may be justifiable in some cases, near-complete opacity surrounding the subjects and outcomes of closed sessions is not.
Second, conflicting guidance from City staff renders it functionally impossible for different commissions to collaborate on topics of mutual interest.
Third, the City provides almost nothing in the way of commissioner onboarding and training. This means that commissions are largely populated by individuals who have deep subject- matter expertise, but limited knowledge of how to contribute that expertise productively.
City Council can correct these problems by adopting the attached proposals. The result will be a Davis that is shaped by all its residents—a Davis that is not just a city, but a community.
The following signatories to this letter and the attached proposal are signing as individuals, not as official representatives of their city commissions or any other organization. Names are listed in alphabetical order, and people’s affiliations are noted for information only.
Crilly Butler, former Commissioner, Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission
Michael Corbett, former Mayor of Davis
Larry Guenther, Chair, Tree Commission
Dillan Horton, Chair, Police Accountability Commission
Lorenzo Kristov, Commissioner, Utilities Commission
Elizabeth Lasensky, Chair, Senior Citizen Commission
Richard McCann, Commissioner, Natural Resources Commission
Roberta Millstein, Chair, Open Space and Habitat Commission
Jeff Mischkinsky, Member, Broadband Advisory Task Force
Alan Pryor, Commissioner, Natural Resources Commission
Greg Rowe, Commissioner, Planning Commission
Hannah Safford, Co-Chair, Natural Resources Commission
Johannes Troost, Chair, Utilities Commission
Erik Vink, Alternate, Recreation and Park Commission
Colin Walsh, Commissioner, Tree Commission
Matt Williams, former Chair, Finance and Budget Commission