The New B&C: What Changed?

Major alterations to standardize the structure, policies, and processes of the city's boards and commissions system became effective last year. They affect the 43 boards listed in, and governed by, Chapter 2-1 of City Code. Here are the key changes and their significance.

• One per council member. The biggest policy change is that each council member now nominates one member of each board, in most cases. Nearly all "at-large" members have been eliminated; typically they'd had weaker relations with council members. Making each board member accountable to a single council member (and vice versa) is intended to foster a closer relationship and better communication. The nominee's appointment requires a majority council vote; all board members serve at the council's pleasure. Eliminating at-large members meant many boards shrank in size – generally accepted but not a popular move with all.

• A board is forever; a task force ain't. A board is now defined as a permanent advisory (or decision-making) body; a task force, by contrast, is a temporary body that lasts only until it completes a specified purpose. (For example, the Live Music Task Force and Waterfront Overlay Task Force were recently disbanded, after delivering their final reports to council in November and December, respectively. Of course, now both want to be made permanent commissions.) Task forces don't have to comply with the rules governing boards unless council says otherwise. A board can be abolished at any time by a majority vote of council.

• You're willing? You'll do. Many boards had such specific appointment requirements (e.g., a member of a specific profession or group) that positions sat vacant for long periods, because no qualified applicant could be recruited, while other citizens willing and able to serve were excluded. Scads of vacancies made B&C less effective; some couldn't even make a meeting quorum. Now, board composition and membership qualifications are recommended but not mandatory. As a result, vacancies have been significantly reduced. (Still, several boards have current vacancies. Want to serve your city? You can apply for a vacant board position right from the city website. But find the right nominating council office first.) By contrast, eligibility limitations remain in full force: no lobbyists and no one who lives outside the city (unless otherwise specified); also, city employees can serve only where there's no conflict of interest. Holdover members can't serve for more than 60 days after their terms expire. (Previously they'd drifted on indefinitely.)

• Nine years, and you're through. Now, a board member can't serve more than nine consecutive years; previously, there were no term limits. But the nine-year clock was set to start on July 31, 2008. This provision ensured that no longtime members (such as Shudde Fath, who has served on the Electric Utility Commission since 1977) would feel targeted for immediate removal. A braver council could have started the clock just three or six years back.

• How do you second a motion? Almost inconceivably, the city provided no basic training to board members on their responsibilities or standard board procedures until late 2007. Many members spent their first year just learning the ropes. Now, all members must complete training within 90 days, plus an annual refresher course. (Current members are all up-to-date.) The training covers the basics of city government, the role of advisory boards in making recommendations and advising council, board procedures, the city's planning and budgeting process, Robert's Rules of Order, ethics, open meeting and ADA requirements, and conflict resolution.

Members also must take an oath of office, agree to comply with ethics guidelines, and on some boards (primarily those reviewing financial contracts) provide a public financial statement. A tough-love change: If an appointee refuses or fails to file a financial statement, he or she now automatically vacates the position.

• Yes, staff will take minutes. The city manager designates a department to provide each board with staff support – including a board liaison. That staffer is responsible for meeting agendas and keeping and distributing minutes – a point of contention previously. The liaison also is responsible for maintaining board-department communication (although the specific duties and required communication flow still need to be spelled out and standardized). A flaw: The liaison definition doesn't include responsibility for board-council communication.

• Show up, or be gone. Now, a board member automatically vacates his position after three "unexcused" absences in a row or upon missing one-third of a year's meetings.

• Follow the bylaws, by George. Adoption of standard bylaws was newly required, based on a template provided. All boards now operate under the same bylaws, making the overall system far less confusing for staff, citizens, and council. Lost was the flexibility to reflect a commission's individual mission or needs.

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