Guest Commentary: The Davis City Council Should Reverse Course on Merging Advisory Commissions

Davis City Hall with an old style bicycle statue out front

Davis City Hall with an old style bicycle statue out front

The Subcommittee on Commissions (Vaitla, Chapman) process for introducing the merging commissions concept was not accomplished in good faith.

The proposal was first made available to the public late on the Friday before last Tuesday’s City Council meeting and was quickly put to a council vote Tuesday night. Even other council members were kept in the dark about the specific proposal until Friday. This was a devious, unfair and terrible process.

There was no material input from commissioners. Some commission chairs and vice-chairs were consulted about what was and wasn’t working in their respective commissions. But some commissioners said they were never asked about the radical plan to merge their commissions, and some commission chairs and vice-chairs testified that they were not consulted at all by Council members Chapman and Vaitla.

The Subcommittee on Commissions has refused to appoint applicants to fill commission vacancies for the last six months, causing commission quorum problems. The Finance and Budget Commission has not met for months and is now down to two members and effectively out of business. After months of waiting to be appointed, applicants move on to other things rather than sit around and wait. The claim that commissions must be merged because there are not enough applicants is a sham.

Merging commissions with two disparate areas of expertise would make them less able to accomplish either missionIf the mergers happen, the workload will double, and there will either be less time for discussion of issues or the meetings will have to run very long.  A commissioner is not likely to have expertise in both missions. For example, the Utility Commission has almost nothing in common with the Finance and Budget Commission, and the Human Relations Commission has nothing in common with the Civics Art Commission.

We, the undersigned commissioners, request that the City Council:

  1. Immediately reverse their preliminary action of approving moving forward with the concept of merging commissions;
  2. Then (a) send the City Council staff report on merging commissions to each affected commission (b) to provide full and proper feedback on the merger plan to the City Council, so (c) it could consider the merger plan in a future council discussion.

(Note: Anyway wishing to add their name to this petition can log on to change.org and search for the petition title, Reverse City Council Decision to Move Forward With Merging Commissions.)

Jim Cramer – Member, Tree Commission Member                      

Elaine Roberts Musser – Member, Utilities Commission      

Gerry Braun – Member, Utilities Commission                         

John Reuter – Member, Tree Commission                           

Alana Gamage – Member, Tree Commission                     

NJ Mvondo – Member, Human Relations Commission                           

Colin Walsh – Vice Chair, Tree Commission                          

Margot Loschke – Former Chair, Senior Citizens Commission                    

Alan Pryor – Former Member, Natural Resources Commission                    

Eileen Samitz – Former Member, Planning Commission                     

Roberta Millstein – Former Chair, Open Space & Habitat Commission               

Larry Guenther – Former Member, Tree Commission                     

Connor Gorman – Member, Human Relations Commission

37 Davis residents and activists                   

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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6 Comments

    1. Richard McCann

      Walter,

      The issue isn’t whether or not the commissions need restructuring–the issue is how this proposal was put forward and then approved quickly with little public (and apparently misrepresented) public and commission input. We’ve been down this road before, the most salient recent example being the Brightnight debacle. The Council should be taking care to reach out before making dramatic (even constitutional) decisions.

      The list of signees reflects a quite broad concern about how this was done, just as when the former mayors signed a letter criticizing Dan Carson for his actions during the DiSC campaign. Listen to those in the community who have earned our respect for their commitment.

  1. Matt Williams

    I have added my name to the petition. Past Chair of the Finance & Budget Commission, and past member of the Utilities Commission, Downtown Plan Advisory Committee, Water Advisory Committee, and Natural Resources Committee.

    In the parlance of Mark West, I am definitely a “local ‘busy body’ with too much time on my hands”

  2. NJ Mvondo

    I am chiming in to address the “bad faith” statement, which I disagree with. It is my conviction that Josh and Bapu have the best interests of the city at heart, despite the current challenge.

    It is also my conviction that we should continue to strive for communication and transparency in our local government decisions, and I hope this continues to be the focus, moving forward; that if and when Brown Act issues are raised, it be ground to find processes and channels of communication that work. I am concerned that if what I am writing here is not successfully addressed (and it can be, please communicate), a similar challenge will arise again.

    The City Council has always (at least for as long as I can remember) worked with the community’s input, and though the process might be painful right now, it think it presents a unique opportunity to design a pathway for collaboration across differences. It would be, in my humble opinion, time, energy and effort our community remains worth investing in.

    On a side note, and to those who might be interested by the news, my time on the Human Relations Commission will be coming to an end soon. It has been a joy to serve with my fellow commissioners, and I remain committed to supporting the efforts and values of the HRC.

  3. Gary Darling

    The process has been highly problematic. I would not have chosen the words “bad faith,” but there are many breaches of public trust here. There were repeated assurances that commission chairs had been contacted, followed by multiple commission chairs saying they had not.

    There was a solicitation for commissioners when the city council was unwilling to fill the vacancies. This wastes time and does seem to exhibit bad faith.

    I think the commentary understated the problems with the proposal. For example, the tree commission is quasi-judicial. If you wish to remove a tree in Davis, you must go through them. The city process requires the merged commission to hear a steady stream of time urgent issues that are irrelevant to everyone’s mission but the Tree Commission itself.

     

    Yet the body must accommodate water resources and climate change and run public processes for the general plan. It is a matter of personal values whether it is more important to provide educational resources on discrimination or to refer folk to the appropriate agency in the event of discrimination or to have robust plans for climate change-driven events like last weekend’s storm.

    Three people died in Northern California last weekend as a result of fallen trees. Correct me if I’m wrong, but no one died because there was no one to refer them to the proper discrimination entity. We need a process to remove diseased trees, or property will be damaged or potentially someone will die.

    The council needs to think the reorganization through.

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