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Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

I write a City Council newsletter with my summary of agenda items coming before City Council. Sign up to receive it first via email, or read it here later on this blog.

Council Appointments & Accountability

Since sharing my newsletter this weekend, people have reached out to me with questions about an item on the Dec 6, 2021 agenda: DC-2, the list of Council appointments for 2022.


DC-2 Resolution to Approve 2022 Council Committee Appointments

https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5257061&GUID=E34B82B8-1FCB-4CD0-BA5C-2358EDE0E94B&Options=&Search=&FullText=1


Council appointments are revisited annually and assign responsibilities to Council Members as voting members of or liaisons to City advisory boards, commissions, and Council committees. Traditionally, these assignments balance responsibilities among all the Council Members with deference to both seniority and positions already held by Council Members.


Agenda item DC-2 is a regular part of our Council process, but Mayor Taylor’s proposed appointments are extremely imbalanced and defy past practice. The Mayor proposes that three Council Member (Briggs, Disch, and Grand) collectively take responsibility for 32 appointed positions while four Council Members (Griswold, Hayner, Nelson and Ramlawi) take responsibility for just 19 appointed positions. This week’s agenda item DC-2 targets me and Council Member Ramlawi by not re-appointing us to Budget and Labor Committee (both of us) and the Council Administrative Committee (Ramlawi only). Moreover, Mayor Taylor proposes that Council Member Hayner no longer serve as an appointee to any of the 7 boards, commissions and committee assignments he held previously.


I do not dispute the Mayor’s right to make choices in appointments. He was elected to have this authority and a majority of Council approves his choices. That is exactly our system of government. Regarding appointments, our community elects a Mayor to make the choices and the community elects a Council to be the “check” on the Mayor’s choices. (It should be noted that there is one exception to this: in 2019, when a majority of Council rejected the Mayor’s choice of appointment for the Planning Commission, state law permitted that appointee to serve for over a year after his term had expired and after a Council majority voted against his appointment.)


Two specific appointments in DC-2 are worthy of discussion:


Budget and Labor Committee

This committee discusses labor contracts for employees of the City and directs the negotiation of those contracts. Discussion at this committee was referenced in an October whistleblower complaint. Council Member Ramlawi and I serve on this committee and witnessed it. The Mayor now proposes to remove us from this committee. Our positions would be filled by CM Disch and CM Grand.


Council Administrative Committee

This committee collaborates with the Administrator. It has historically worked on performance reviews for the City Attorney and City Administrator and hiring processes for both of those positions. The committee’s purview was expanded in the last year to include Council rules and the enforcement of Council rules. Crafting new rules - and using those rules to target Council colleagues - is a new focus of this committee.

The Mayor proposes to remove CM Ramlawi from the Administrative committee and appoint CM Radina.


For the last three years, I have invested many hours trying to engage residents in a meaningful way toward understanding the work of Council. I am deeply committed to City Council’s accountability to the public. I believe that accountability can only happen when you, the residents, have some idea about what Council is doing. Democracy dies in darkness.


In the last year, the Mayor and a majority of Council have crafted an entirely different system of accountability: individual elected members of Council are accountable to a majority of their colleagues. Under this different system, a Council Member’s ability to serve the full role as a Council Member depends on the whim and preference of a majority of their colleagues, not on the electorate that put that Council Member in office.


This week, the Mayor aims to completely exclude one duly elected member of Council from appointments. Council Member Ramlawi and I are excluded from appointments related to oversight, specifically because we participated in oversight: challenging the City’s internal response to a whistleblower. The Mayor and a majority of council have crafted a system where election by the voters is not significant and does not earn any opportunity to do useful committee work as a Council Member. The cost of dissent from a majority is exclusion from these appointed positions. This is contrary to past practice and it is undemocratic. It is not in the public interest.


Our systems and institutions empower the voters as the ultimate “check” on elected officials. That statement is both a fact and a call to action. Our democratic systems depend on the election of people who can serve the public interest and work with others who are elected to do the same. When our public bodies are dominated by people unable or unwilling to do this, our systems are vulnerable. We have seen this problem to an alarming degree in our national government— in between election cycles, there is less accountability. We ride out the storm and look for strategies to reduce the harm.


I appreciate everyone who contacted me about this issue. It matters.