Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mayor Doesn't Need Citizens Advising Him - Whacking Boards and Commissions

[Warning:  I'm afraid some snark has slipped into this.  My wife isn't here to check this over before tonight's meeting.]

The Dan Sullivan administration has a proposal before the Assembly tonight to put sunset clauses on many boards and commissions and to abolish a few.  These aren't "let's review these every now and then to be sure they're still needed" sunset clauses.  Some would end this October.  Some next October.  Some in 2013. 

Sunset clauses are a good thing.  Agencies as well as boards and commissions should be reviewed periodically to be sure they still are needed.  But the mayor's limits means people appointed to a board could sometimes have longer terms than the board.   This seems less like oversight than an attempt to kill off as many boards as possible.  A whole list of boards are scheduled to be whacked UNLESS otherwise renewed.   This looks like an attempt at wholesale board and commission slaughter. 

It would be nice to see the study the mayor's office did and the criteria they used to determine which boards to keep and which to whack.  And to know the people they consulted for history and context.  Surely, they have such a study before making a wholesale attack on citizen participation.  His father did a pretty extensive study through the Anchorage Urban Observatory back in the late 1970s to determine how well the different boards and commissions functioned. 

Why have these bodies?

Boards and Commissions have two main statutory functions:
  1.   Give advice to officials about particular programs.
  2.   Make decisions about about specific issues, such as zoning variances or ethical violations.
During the Knowles administration, after another study, the ordinance was changed to make the titles reflect the function.  Boards made decisions and Commissions gave advice.  This no longer seems to have been followed consistently. 

There are a number of benefits such boards and commissions serve.

1.  Many perspectives weigh in.  They allow an easy and inexpensive way to have a variety of voices heard on issues.  Members add valuable perspectives that Muni employees might never consider otherwise, or not until they've implemented a program that causes serious complaints.

2.  Board Members educated on policy.  It's a way to get everyday citizens to be much more aware of what is happening in Muni departments, communicate that to their constituents, and bring back valuable feedback.

3.  Problems avoided in the planning stage rather than implementation stage.

4.  Other beneficial side-effects
  • The more information people have on an issue, the more they are able to understand the complexities and tradeoffs necessary in most programs.  
  • Having people of diverse backgrounds - politically, economically, socially, ethnically - sitting together on a regular basis to hear about a program their interested in, means that they have time
    •  to get to know and respect each other,
    • understand the interests affected by the programs, and 
    • when issues arise, they are much better equipped to find solutions that meet the needs of more than one interest group.  
  • They can also reassure their constituency that the 'other guys' aren't out to screw them over.  Or, if they are, they can alert them early.  

Good public officials, who believe in serving the whole community, encourage a wide variety of citizen input, because they recognize that the community is made up of lots of different types of people. 

The Mayor doesn't simply represent one political ideology.  The mayor represents everyone.  Boards and commissions are a good way to get that wide spectrum of Anchorage interests participating in mutually supportive environments to iron out wrinkles in the early stages, rather than in combative, expensive, divisive win/lose battles. 

People who come into office determined to change things to suit their ideology or other guiding principles tend to have little patience for public participation.  It's messy and takes longer to make decisions.  And they may not get their way.  But if you can't get people to buy in, the battles will continue and things will get uglier. 

The original proposal called for sunset clauses:
A.  All boards and commissions established under this title, except for those mandated by the Charter or state law, or where specifically set forth in the board or commission enabling ordinance below, shall terminate by operation of law every three years from the date set forth therein unless affirmatively continued by the Assembly by ordinance.
B.  All new boards and commissions shall sunset within three (3) years of creation and shall be subject to the provisions of this section.

C.    Prior to continuation or reestablishment of any board or
commission, the Assembly shall hold a public hearing.
But the latest proposal - apparently from Assembly members Ossiander and Piper - whacks C.  The Assembly apparently wouldn't have to hold a hearing before the board vanishes into the sunset.  I'm guessing that's what this means, not sure.

Another sign that this is an attempt to whack the boards?  They have very specific, one time dates for termination.  They aren't to be reviewed, say, every five or ten years.  No, there's a specific death date.  And then what?  After that date, will a new date be added?  Will the ordinance be changed for each board every two or three years until they finally get rid of the commission? 

The Library Advisory Board's death penalty is set for  October 14, 2012.
The Health and Human Services Advisory board's is also October 14, 2012.
(Both of these were originally scheduled to go on the block in 2011)

The Mt. View Community Recreation Center Advisory Commission - ZAP - October 14, 2011.  After that, we don't need community folks helping out. 

Transit Advisory Board?  October 2012.  Since all the Mayor's staff ride the bus to work, they don't need others to tell them how to do things. 

Senior Citizens Advisory Commission?  Also October 2012.  Does the mayor know that us old folks vote?

Fortunately, the Sister Cities Commission is exempt from the Sunset clause.  Clearly this is more important that local public transportation and senior citizens.

Arts Advisory Commission?  October 2012 (moved up in the last draft from 2013) 

The Public Facilities Advisory Commission is simply whacked in the new ordinance.  No sunset here.  It's possible that some commissions don't have a continuing need.  I don't really know about this one.

You get the idea. 

Assembly member Flynn has some amendments to offer.    And to require the Assembly be noticed at least 90 days before a board or commission is sunsetted.  He wants to eliminate the sunset clause for some of the commissions.  Specifically he wants to make the following permanent:
  1. Urban Design Commission
  2. Library Advisory Board
  3. Parks and Rec Service Area Commission
  4. Public Transit Commission
  5. Heritage Land Bank

All the links come from the Assembly website.  The meeting is tonight at the Anchorage Assembly.

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