City Council and the Problem of Commissions Palo Alto Issues, posted by Otto, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on May 16, 2007 at 12:45 pm
This well-done Weekly editorial Web Link illustrates but one example of the general failure of our policy-making bodies, over the years, to seriously consider the findings of the very commissions that are put into place to advise - dollowing deep diligence - on matters of policy.
There is another problem with commissions - they _politicize_ everyday operational and aesthetic matters - often in areas that are best left to the operational managers that we hire to run our city.
The Architectual Commission, the Human Relations Commission, the Planning Commission, the Library Commission, and so on. All of these have an _occasional_ place in helping to bring forward advice to our policy makers. That said, should these comissions be institutionalized as permanent arbiters of advise - and do they really help our city to move forward as quickly as necessary in challenging times, especially given the penchant of policy-makers to defer hard questions that require answers _now_.
Once city commissions become institutions, they become politicizing hotbeds, and tend to deflect from the kind of leadership we require at the top to make tough decisions.
Our city's policy makers might take a hard look at the role of commissions in our city, and ask themselves whether many otherwise normal operational city decisions wouldn't be best left to the professionals we hire to carry them out, with the occasional ad hoc commission formed to look into this or that problem, as long as the City Council _uses_ the advice brought back to them, instead of ousing it as a tactic for not committing, or ignoring said advice altogether.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on May 16, 2007 at 1:29 pm
I just got re-appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission to my second 3 year term. You don't mention the Commission on which I serve in your comments, and I must admit I cannot tell if your intent is to find fault with City Council, Commissions or both.
I have seen the Parks and Recreation Commission evolve quite a bit in the time I have been on it. Some of this has to do with it being fairly new, about 7 years old, and getting its role clearly defined as part of the City Community Services area. Some of it has to do with who serves, their interests, their personal strengths/weaknesses/qualities. Some of it has to do with what the issues are that we face. I suspect that is true for all the Commissions.
And of course, a big part of a Commission's work is a function of who applies to serve on it and whom City Council appoints.
I do not want to boast about the job the Parks and Recreation Commission does, or my role on the Commission, but I must admit I found some of your characterizations to be difficult to see during my time there. Angry golfers, angry gardeners, and angry tennis players may not be the same as people dealing with police use of Tasers, but I feel we have approached issues these folks and others have had openly, objectively, fairly and decisively, and it is reflected in how the Council ultimately has disposed of the matters they have asked us to address.
I think the Parks and Recreation Commission has a valuable role to play working with staff, Cit Council and the community, and I admire greatly the people with whom I serve and have recently left service on the Commission. I invite you to attend our next meeing on May 22 in City Hall, Council Conference Room, at 7pm. I would be interested if your opinion as expressed above is born out by how we conduct our affairs on behalf of the community.
Posted by Otto, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on May 16, 2007 at 9:45 pm
Paul, I said "The Architectual Commission, the Human Relations Commission, the Planning Commission, the Library Commission, and so on. "
the words "and so on" is meant to include all commissions not named. Please know that I'm not indicting the commissions, or the commissioners.
Everyone works hard, and does their very best. THis is not an indictment of commissioners, or the intent that underlies the forming of permanent commissions.
My point was that commissions are set up in such a way that many operational functions within the city become to highly politicized. I would much rather see special temporary commissions set up, for specific, large-scale purposes - such as the recent taser commission, or the public safety commission.
Full time commissions encourage contention, and the politicization of city functions. I would much rather see our city bring in an ombudsman or two to handle complaints and citizen input.
Again, it's not the commissions, or the commissioners that are the issue; it's rather the kinds of contentious citizen and slow-as-molasses policy-making behavior that is encouraged by their very existence.
Changing the structure, length, or purpose of commissions micght serve us better.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on May 17, 2007 at 9:02 am
Thanks for your elaboration. I agree with you that any group can calcify after a period of time when it did serve a useful purpose. Such is the case in and out of government bodies, although there are many examples of the roots burroughing so deeply with public institutions that it is indeed difficult if not impossible to close them out if they no longer add value.
So, I agree with your assessment, still not able to buy in to the notion that the way to address it rests entirely with setting up ad hoc groups that are disbanded after they have accomplished what they were asked to do. I actually served on one of these a few years ago, we did our job, and disbanded, the Mayfield Soccer Fields are a bi-product of that task forces work. They can be very effective.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for continuity as well. No commission or council should be micro-managing professional staff, but there are times when legitimate policy questions require reasonend thinking from people who have some time and experience with the matters at hand. There is a great deal of effort required to "start up" any working group, and instituitonal memory does have a place.
I think we can agree to disagree on the best approach here. Whether a group has quasi permanent status or a finite life, the community is entitled to the people serving to doing the best work they can, and taking seriously the leadership role they play on behalf of the community. We have seen many examples of "punting" and of "leadership" in both types of groups, so I am hard pressed to buy into the notion that one type of set up or the other leads to better policy making. Like many other things I observe about life, "It Depends."
Posted by Tom, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on May 19, 2007 at 10:07 pm
Paul. I am impressed with your reasoned approach to answering this and several other issues in other blogs. It seems as if you write your comments, reread them to make sure your statements are literate, and that your theme(s) are developed coherently before submitting. Would that others did so. Thank you for your comments.