Opinion: Reform the Commission Appointment Process? If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

On Monday, the West Hollywood City Council will consider a proposal by Lindsay Horvath to “reform” the way the city’s board and commission members are appointed.  As presented it appears to be something of a solution in search of a problem.

Item 5F proposes that all commission and board members be appointed “at large,” meaning that to get appointed you would need at least the votes of at least three Council members. 

Currently, each Council member makes a direct appointment to each board and commission.  Where a commission or board has more than five members, the additional members are appointed “at large,” meaning by a vote of the majority of the Council members.

The staff report does not indicate the motivation for this proposal.  Nothing in the report reflects negatively upon the current method for making appointments. 

As a practical matter, it is difficult to ascertain how the Horvath proposal will improve the caliber of commission and board appointments.  As one commissioner pointed out to me, there are over one hundred board and commission appointments; will each City Council member shift through hundreds of applications or sit through hundreds of interviews?  Not likely.  Another astute observer speculated that the Council would have little choice but to have staff do the vetting process, which would all but ensure that most of the appointments would be well-meaning but docile folks who would not be likely to ask hard questions of staff or question the status quo.

For most of the city’s history, the Council was highly factionalized.  Clearly, all you need is three votes to make an appointment and a junta of three could, and if history is any guide would take all of the spoils for themselves and their supporters.  What better way to perpetuate your faction than to have all of the board and commissioners singing from the same choir book?

From the inception of the city, we have seen the benefit of each Council member having the power of direct appointment.  This ensures a diversity of voices and opinions.  It also ensures that no Council member is completely isolated or ignored. 

The item states that making all appointments at large will encourage the Council members to “work collaboratively.” Even if it has that effect, it would amount to a homogenization of outlook in these appointed bodies because community activists who had challenged City Hall would never get appointed.  Indeed this is what we saw when the Council empowered the city manager to appoint an advisory board during the process to update our current General Plan.  Any community leader that had publicly opposed a major development was excluded.  That left off a lot of qualified community opinion leaders.  That committee ultimately floundered on its own banality,  with most members resigning or simply failing to appear before the process was over. 

Direct appointments help diversity.  Sheila Lightfoot was a popular tribune for the residents when she was appointed to the Planning Commission by Lauren Meister.  Lightfoot would never have been an at-large appointment.

Similarly, Lauren Meister would have never been appointed to the Public Safety Commission if all appointments were at large.  That was Lauren’s first public office. 

I would have never had been a Rent Stabilization commissioner had Councilmember Steve Schulte not made me his appointment in 1988.  By that time I had already crossed the Council majority by my role in qualifying a ballot measure that ultimately stopped the city from building a massive City Hall in West Hollywood Park that would have destroyed most of the green space as well as our only municipal pool.  I had also opposed the city’s approval to convert residential buildings into hotels, which are today the Le Parc, Le Rive, the Montrose and the Chamberlin.  In short, I was a pain even then.

While not all direct appointments are popular or even effective, the direct appointments do ensure a more robust debate than would otherwise occur.  If there are a few less than ideal direct appointments, this “cure” is worse than the illness.  The proposal to make all appointments at large would certainly diminish the market place of ideas upon which local democracy depends.  Exactly whose voices are intended to be throttled by this proposal?

I will be charitable by describing this proposal as half-baked rather than as a power grab.  But if adopted it will encourage factionalism rather than discourage it.  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  I hope that each of you will let your favorite Council member know how you feel about this proposal. 


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Sheila Lightfoot
Guest
Sheila Lightfoot

Seems to me the best way to judge whether you support this change is to think about how you make the decision to vote for a particular person for City Council. If you vote for candidates because you think they will represent your voice, your principles or your points of view… wouldn’t you want them to appoint residents who will, likewise, represent you on the boards and commissions? Or, would you prefer that a Councilmember who didn’t have your support possibly be the deciding vote on all or most of the appointments? If you’re simply calculating that Councilmembers you voted… Read more »

Bill Gordon
Guest
Bill Gordon

This means, though, that no voices except those elected to the council are heard. In which case, what is the purpose of the Board? Just let’s have the council decide everything.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Bill, no, it doesn’t mean that, at all. There are still some “at large” appointments, which must be voted on by the entire Council. The current system isn’t broken, and is well-balanced. I agree with Ms. Lightfoot, and feel like the Council made the right vote, even though I appreciate that Mayor Pro-Tem Horvath brought this up for discussion.

Ann Goldman
Guest
Ann Goldman

I strongly agree with Steve Martin that item 5F’s proposal to make all commission and board members appointed at large would disastrous for our city on so many levels. As Council-member Lauren Meister reminded me during a recent discussion, being a Council member is a PART TIME job, and many of the needs, problems, and issues of us who live and work in the community are handed to staff to follow through on. The Council members are already hard pressed to find time to deal with on the ground realities. Why add layers of bureaucratic paper work and additional meetings… Read more »

Bill Gordon
Guest
Bill Gordon

Every board and commission has a city staff liaison to inform the council and the board/commission of its work. It really isn’t very difficult to keep informed of the city’s business.

Good Idea
Guest
Good Idea

This is a good proposal by Council Member Horvath and one that merits serious consideration and discussion. Direct appointees are a vestige of the deputy-gate system that encouraged partisanship and tribalism. At-large appointees are independent voices because they are not beholden to a particular council member. They can vote for or against an issue without having to worry directly about their chances for reappointment. Individuals with extreme or antithetical views may have a harder time receiving an at-large appointment, but isn’t that a good thing? Why should a council member be allowed to reward an extreme person or “friend” to… Read more »

Bill Gordon
Guest
Bill Gordon

Exactly. The independence of boards and commissions to do their work should be a paramount consideration for their essential duties. Boards and commissions were designed to bring in community involvement. Why stifle that involvement if the only real voices are those of the council members?

Randy
Guest
Randy

With some at-large appointments, voted on by the entire Council, it is not “only real voices of those of the Council Members.”

Bill Gordon
Guest
Bill Gordon

I am DEFINITELY in favor of Lindsey’s proposal. I served on the West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board for about 10 years as an “at large” member and was kicked off the board when each member was the appointee of a city-council member. As an “at large” board member, I felt I represented the ENTIRE LGBT community, not the LGBT community issues of particular council member. Nor was I ever going to compromise my stands on the issues to be a mouthpiece for a particular council member “sponsor.” Not only is Lindsey’s proposal the ONLY fair way for board… Read more »

Very Concerned Citizen
Guest
Very Concerned Citizen

I am in agreement with Mr. Martin’s commentary. In my opinion, the current policy of each council member appointing and voting on at-large positions is the fairest way to have all voices heard. I wonder how many current commissioners & advisory board members would not have passed otherwise.

Cynthia Blatt
Guest
Cynthia Blatt

There’s no justification 4 Horvath’s proposal other than to factionalize the Boards & Commissions. Direct Appointments are essential to ensure other opinions are heard. There’s no point to this proposed change other than to silence minority voices, while further empowering wealthy developers.

More Integrity
Guest
More Integrity

We need a fabric of Boards & Commissions dedicated to awareness and integrity. Otherwise this becomes an unruly process filled by unstructured comment.

More Integrity
Guest
More Integrity

Agree with Cynthia Blatt’s succinct comment.

Observer
Guest
Observer

I think implementing at-large appointments is worthy of at least a trial period.

More Integrity
Guest
More Integrity

Trial periods would not be practical.

Virginia Gillick
Guest
Virginia Gillick

This seems like a good idea, but there are too many chances for unfair distribution of p.o.v. on the commissions. The current system seems more egalitarian. I agree that if it isn’t broke, no need to fix it. I look forward to understanding why this may be a good idea, so far I do not get it.

WeHo Mikey
Guest
WeHo Mikey

According to WEHOville, on Feb 2, Lindsay Horvath had received campaign contributions of $103,000 from 324 people; roughly 88% ($91,005) came from OUTSIDE of West Hollywood. She has no connection to WeHo voters, only to people with suspect motives (why do they donate to our community’s election??)

WeHo Mikey
Guest
WeHo Mikey

This would seem at first (and second, and third) glance to be appeasing her contributors by gutting the Planning and Rent Stabilization Commissions so they can redevelop every square centimeter of our city, 10 stories high. No more rent stabilization, no more zoning, just donations to Lindsay!

Oust Horvath
Guest
Oust Horvath

This is very interesting, and good to note. It means the People of West Hollywood do not necessarily support Horvath, other than having been influenced by her MOUNTAIN of mailers that she inundates local mailboxes with, in her own environmentally-irresponsible way in wasting paper in service to ego

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

Lindsey’s proposal is noble in theory and she is not afraid to bring these items forward. I am sure she could have counted the votes to know that this item did not have a co-sponsor but she brought the discussion forward anyway. While the notion of all at-large commission appointments is noble is an environment where ‘all things are equal’ in reality all things are not equal, the council has biases.. the council can be very ‘cliquey’, and any 3 members can decide all of their side should be on all the commissions. Think about the slate, Heilman, Horvath, Land… Read more »

Ann Goldman
Guest
Ann Goldman

Why is Ms. Horvath’s proposal “noble in theory”? And what is the reason it was proposed? For all the reasons Steve Marin states, it seems Lindsey’s proposal would take us backwards not forwards. But your suggestions for term limits is a good one. More accessible involvement opportunities needed

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

The staff report states one of the goals to the proposal is to take politics out of the process and have council members work collaboratively. Sadly its counter-intuitive. It might put a different kind of politics in play. But Lindsey was not afraid to make an effort bringing this forward.

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest

I agree with Ms. Horvath’s proposal. It’s a good way to make appointments with more than one person’s agenda being placed on a board or commission.