Apparently there’s a movement afoot on Ypsi City Council to change the way volunteers serving on boards and commissions are rotated off at the ends of their terms. It seems like a relatively small thing to me, but, as my in-box is full of notes from people who want to talk about it, I figure I must be missing something. First, by way of background, here’s an email from Ypsilanti’s Mayor, Paul Schreiber.
Dear Members of Ypsilanti Boards and Commissions:
I write to inform you of a proposed city council resolution that will institute automatic termination for Ypsilanti board and commission members whose terms have expired.
Resolution 2010-191, sponsored by Ypsilanti city council members Pete Murdock, Brian Robb, and Lois Richardson, will be considered by Ypsilanti city council on Tuesday, September 7. It is attached and can also be found on page 84 of the city council packet. The proposed Term of Office section states:
TERM OF OFFICE: That all appointees to City Boards and Commissions shall serve for a fixed term. A term may be extended once for no more than 60 days by a two-thirds vote of Council.
Currently, board and commission members whose terms have expired serve into the next term until they are reappointed or replaced or until they resign. The proposed Term of Office wording will eliminate automatic term extension.
To avoid automatic termination, I intend to re-nominate current board and commission members before their terms expire. But the nominations must be approved by a majority of city council members. Failure to approve the nominations will result in automatic terminations that will increase board vacancies and may curtail or even stymie projects and activities.
If you have comments on this proposed change in policy, please contact me, Ypsilanti city council members Pete Murdock, Brian Robb, and Lois Richardson, or any other Ypsilanti city council members. I also encourage comments at the September 7 city council meeting during Audience Participation. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.
And, here’s a letter from DDA member, and Corner Brewery owner, Rene Greff:
Dear Mayor and Council,
I am writing to urge you to reject the proposed changes to the term of office procedures for board and commission appointees on your upcoming agenda (resolution 2010-91 on page 84 of the city council packet.) I have to admit that I am discouraged and disappointed by what appears to be continued gamesmanship on the part of a few members of council in an effort to dismantle a fair and democratic process for filling vacancies that has served the city well and will continue to do so if used in good faith. Though in all fairness, perhaps the sponsors of this resolution simply didn’t consider all of its possible ramifications.
I cannot know if the goal of this proposal is to allow council to passively remove board and commission volunteers without having to step up to the plate and vote them off – but that will be the result. If council is unhappy with the performance of any appointee they have every right (and obligation) not to renew them for another term. But it should be done in an open and honest way –not by filibustering a vote on their renewal for 60 days to let their term lapse. Let’s leave that kind of ugly passive-aggressive politics in Washington. We don’t need it here in Ypsilanti where we work and serve side by side with our friends, neighbors, and elected officials.
If the council is concerned about volunteers overstaying their appointments, you could easily solve this problem with a requirement that before a term ends, the mayor must announce his/her candidate for the seat and the council must vote on the nomination. That would ensure a smooth and timely transition that would help boards and commissions and keep everything running on schedule.
I believe that open and honest government encourages a more engaged and supportive constituency and hope that you will reject this resolution which, regardless of its original intent, certainly looks to the public like cynical political gamesmanship.
Thank you for your time and for your service.
If you’d asked me to sit down and make a list of the 20 most pressing issues facing Ypsilanti, I doubt very seriously that “volunteers overstaying their terms on boards and commissions” would be on it. Having served on both a board and a commission for the City, I can tell you, it’s a miracle that anyone’s willing to serve out one term, let alone stay for a second. But, like I said, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe we have tons of qualified people in Ypsi who are dying for opportunities to give up their nights and weekends, sitting around tables, away from their families, debating the minutia of zoning codes and the like, and I’m just not aware of it. And, maybe, in the whole scheme of things, it’s a bigger deal than attracting employers to the City, and making progress with the Water Street development, but this just looks to me like another case of misplaced priorities. Feel free to leave a comment and try to convince me otherwise, but quarreling over whether or not someone serving on the Planning Commission, who is already doing so with the approval of City Council, can stay on for a few more thankless months, seems to miss the point that we’re hurtling toward insolvency, without any real plan as to how to set things right.
update: The full text of the proposal can be found here.
update: City Council member Mike Bodary offers the following explanation for the resolution in the comments section:
The upcoming proposal, is intended to repair a deficiency in council procedures with respect to commission appointees.
When mayoral appointees are voted onto commissions it is for a fixed term. At the close of that term it is intended that the mayor will announce the proposed reappointment of the current member for another term, or a suitable replacement. Council has found that there are a large number of critical positions to commissions that are or could be expiring without reappointment being offered to council by the mayor. This leaves the “expired” member serving indefinitely. The proposal under consideration would eliminate this problem by actually expiring the term of a member when it was intended to expire. The mayor will then be required to bring an appointment to council for consideration. Such appointment will be voted on at the next meeting, allowing for much more open public input or time for additional interested parties to step forward. This proposal will eliminate the problem of having a position vacancy remain open, as this hampers the performance of the commission and impedes the city’s progress.
Council is also finding that during a commissioner’s term some have moved out of the city, making their vested interest in Ypsilanti’s needs less clear. Ypsilanti issues need to be decided by our own citizens and vested business people, not outsiders. The present system allows the reappointment process to languish without remedy. The proposal is a common-sense solution to this problem, and it should be noted that this is the procedure used in many other communities.
p.s. The part of the resolution quoted by Mayor Schreiber is not the entire proposal and the other items should also be examined to get the whole picture.
update: Mayor Paul Schreiber responds with the following:
My argument against term expirations is this: If the mayor and city council can’t agree on appointments, then the board or commission has to deal with vacancies. Automatic term extension keeps contributing members on committees until city council can come to an agreement.
In the case of Ypsilanti Housing Commission that council member Bodary is referring to, Carmelita Mullins is serving into the next term because city council tabled her nomination earlier this year. I still intend to nominate her because she has experience with low-income families as a Washtenaw County mediator and counselor at the Dispute Resolution Center, has served on the YHC board for about 15 years and understands HUD rules and regulations for low-income housing, and even though she lives in Ypsilanti Township now, she is active in the community through Brown Chapel A.M.E. and lived in the city for 25 years.
Another YHC term is up in October. With automatic terminations, the YHC could be down to three seated members for a five member board. Isn’t it better to let the YHC function normally with a full board while city council irons out its differences?
Resolution 2010-191 does have some good points. It asks for a courtesy notice of at least two weeks in advance before a nomination. In the future I intend to follow this practice regardless because it promotes good communication and thoughtful discussion. A two-week courtesy notice to the full city council for resolution 2010-191 would also have been beneficial. I hope to receive courtesy notices for future resolutions sponsored by city council members so that city staff and the public have time to provide thoughtful comment.