Additional Thoughts (Feb 1, 2020) - Boards and Commissions Appointment Process

The following was originally published in my Feb 1, 2020 Newsletter in the "Additional Thoughts" section

Additional thoughts…

On this week’s agenda, I have sponsored an amendment to our process for appointments to boards and commissions. The amendment would standardize procedures that currently vary across bylaws for the different bodies. It is my hope that the changes will open up conversation about appointments and expand opportunity for a larger circle of people. 

Background

According to our City Code, Board and Commission openings will be filled according to the original terms of appointment. Most board and commission appointments are nominations from the Mayor, with approval from Council. There are a few exceptions.

E.g. The bylaws for the Environmental Commission state that eight of their members will be “nominated by Council Members serving” on it. The recently established Independent Community Police Oversight Commission (ICPOC) defines a specific role for Council Liaisons: the members of ICPOC are “appointed by one or more of CM Liaisons to HRC or ICPOC.” The Commission on Disability Issues (CODI) bylaws are even more inclusive around recommendations for appointment, anticipating full participation from the whole commission:

Section 5. In an effort to keep the Commission full and diverse, any member of the Commission may present applicants to the Commission for a vote on whether to recommend to the Mayor the applicant's appointment to the Commission.

For the Environmental Commission, ICPOC, and CODI, at least two people review and recommend applicants, prior to their nomination. I believe that this process would be helpful for all boards and commissions. My amendment would add a preliminary step of review and recommendation before the Mayor’s nomination, including a role for Council Liaison(s) and, also, designated member(s) of the given board or commission. 

Improved Process

The people most likely to know the skills and experience needed to serve on a board or commission are the people currently serving. Not all boards and commissions include a Council Liaison. However, for those boards and commissions that do have a Council Liaison, we can play a special role in facilitating review and discussion of potential new members.

A year ago, at our request, Council was given login access to the database of applicants to Boards and Commissions. Now that we have access to this database, Council Members can see resumes and read explanations from each applicant about the skills and experience they would bring to the appointment. (Prior to January 2019, Council was presented with Mayoral nominations for appointment to Boards and Commissions without knowing the applicant pool from which the nomination had been chosen.)

What we are missing now on most of these volunteer bodies: any formal process for the Mayor’s office to receive input re: applications, specifically from any current member serving or from those Council Members acting as liaisons to the specific board or commission. 

Amendment, Chapter 8, 1:171 (1)

I am proposing to add the following language to our City Code chapter on “Organization of Boards and Commissions.” It would read:

(a) When one or more City Council members are appointed as members of or liaisons to a board or commission, the board or commission shall designate a group consisting of the City Council members and one or more voting members of the board or commission to review applications for membership on the board or commission.

(b) The group designated under Section 1:171(1)(a) shall submit recommendations for appointments to the Mayor, or to City Council for appointments made by City Council, from among the applications reviewed.

The public service attached to these appointments is important. If we value the work of our boards and commissions, we should care about the process of appointing their members. If approved this week, the amendment will have passed "first reading." At a later meeting, it will then have a second reading (and public hearing) before it is officially added to our City Code.

Year in review

In the last year, the Mayor has communicated about a hundred nominations for appointment to boards and commissions. Well over half of these nominations were re-appointments. In recent months, I have noticed Mayoral appointments have been added to our agendas late, often added on the same day of the Council meeting. Council theoretically has the opportunity to consider and view applicants before approval, but we cannot offer meaningful input when names are publicized at the last minute and immediately subject to public debate and discussion.

In the database accessible to Council, we can see when each application was submitted, when that resident volunteered to serve our community; some board and commission applications have been in our system for months or years. In just the last year, the city has received hundreds of applications to boards and commissions. By my count, of the approximately 40 “new” appointments made by the Mayor in the last year (i.e. not re-appointments), over a third of these applications were submitted less than four weeks before the Council meeting at which they were nominated. One Mayoral nomination was apparently communicated to Council before the person had even submitted an application.

Nothing about my amendment interferes with the power of the Mayor to ultimately nominate whomever he likes. My amendment does not require that the Mayor nominate only among those applicants recommended to him. However, I think it is good process to include at least two people in a thoughtful review of each applicant before nomination.

Elizabeth NELSON

DEMOCRAT for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 4

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PO Box 2243. Ann Arbor. MI 48106-2243