(Los Alamitos, 10/17/2013)I wish I’d read this post years ago, certainly before I began serving on Los Al’s Traffic Commission. Lots of good info from our Thursday columnist again this week. Very timely, too, with an opening on the Parks & Rec Commission extended to the end of this month. . . because nobody applied last month!
by Highlands Guy: It seems that the most important qualification for serving on a City Commission is that you have an address within the city limits. I guess you have to able to make it to evening meetings also. Seems simple enough.
And knowing that Los Alamitos’ 32 commissioners make up just about ¼ of 1% of the population, one would expect there would be no shortage of applicants. But from what I have seen over the years there seems to be a very applicants for open commission spots.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but one of my concerns is that the civic lives of all of us are being maneuvered about by just a few of our friends and neighbors. And I guess the old adage about getting the government we deserve, since most of us choose not to participate, comes into play.
But with an approved 2013-2014 budged of almost $13,000,000.00 I sure hope these folks on the commissions are looking out for the best interest of everyone with a Los Al address and for all the folks in the greater community.
What do other places do?
The ways in which cities across the globe accomplish local and proscribed goals are all over the place. In Santa Monica, the folks on the Commission on the Status of Women are appointed by the city council and have mandates related to mission and vision statements, and are guided by a stated set of values.
Raleigh (NC) Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board serves as a liaison between the city and the community and work to promote the parks and recreation programs.
China has four levels of administration under the central government. It includes a myriad of provinces, autonomous and special administrative regions, prefecture cities, and 40,000 townships. This last category is kind of like a Los Al, and as long as no one finds out, they can do stuff on their own. But most decisions are made by a local, mayor-like, boss, with some help form the locals.
In the U.S. the purpose and scope of commissions has evolved over the years. From volunteer panels under a mayor’s authority to oversee a variety of functions from the police and public works to animal control and housing.
In many cases they have become major change agents. Some have seemed superbly qualified, others looked more like people to whom the mayor owed a favor.
Today, more and more, commissioners serve to deepen citizen participation in the government. This is especially the case where the voter turn out is particularly low.
Expertise in specific fields is nice, but certainly not a requirement to become a commissioner. To reflect or represent the needs/desires/feelings of ones local friends and neighbors probably plays a more important role.
A Commissioner’s actions shape and influence public policy, and lend a more diverse viewpoint for the city council to consider.
A few of the more obvious duties that an effective commissioner should incorporate during their tenure include:
- Oversee, with a critical eye, the money spent by the city epartment over which they have influence.
- Make sure the end product, whether it is a new fence in a park or a revised ordinance, is of the highest quality.
- Use the General Plan as a template and an integral component of your decision making process.
- Remove the emotions and make decisions based on facts, the law, and with a perception of how future generations of Los Alamitos residents will judge them.
- At times being a commissioner can be like being on a jury. You have to stick to your guns in the face of opposition, and ‘do the right thing’.
- At the beginning of the calendar or fiscal year, set realistic and quantifiable goals.
- At the end of the year, conduct a review process.
What the City could do:
On the City side, I would like to see a more identifiable set of precepts related to better defined commissioners’ roles, expectations, and what they can hope to accomplish. This would help the newbie hit the ground running at their first meeting.
The development of mission and vision statements for each commission could also serve to focus energies.
A modest proposal to increase involvement:
Finally perhaps a few additional, highly focused, commissions could provide room for the folks who want to be involved, have all sorts of experience and expertise, but have not been able to express it through the commission process so far.
For example, how about splitting the Planning Commission into design, structural, and codes (building and zoning) components? I know the blow-back, but having a few residents on a Police Commission may add some helpful feedback to those that put it on the line for us daily.
I have overheard countless good ideas over the years from highly successful locals that could be explored more thoroughly via a business/commerce commission. And tell me that a technology commission could not be a boon to the city, especially since those “of a certain age” are not as attuned as those at the other end of the spectrum.
“The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy”.
- Charles de Montesquieu. (1689-1755) French social commentator and political thinker.
First to articulate the separation of powers concept.
…And that’s just the way I see it.
Additional vacancies on Parks & Rec and Traffic Commissions, among others occurring at the end of the year will need to be filled shortly.