Draft of plan for new boards and commissions coming to Council
Monday, April 7, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
As Austin’s new governmental reality draws near, the city continues to work out the details of exactly how City Hall will cope with the overhaul.
As part of that strategy, the Boards and Commissions Transition Taskforce has been charged with thinking through how the nearly 60 city boards and commissions could change come next year. Though their recommendations are not final (or binding,) they are scheduled to present them at this Tuesday’s City Council work session. By April 1, the taskforce had begun the work of drafting the transition plan.
Only a handful of the boards are slated for removal. The Lake Austin Task Force and Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Task Force have both finished their work, and the Airport Boulevard Advisory Group hasn’t met since June 2012, and are currently slated for removal from the city’s Boards and Commissions web page.
More controversial is the proposition that the Resource Management Commission’s responsibilities be divided between the Electric Utility Commission, the Environmental Board and the Water and Wastewater Commission. That idea has already caught flak at the Council Committee on Austin Energy last week.
Though consumer advocate Carol Biedrzycki spoke to the Council Committee about the importance of the RMC, and the need to retain it, Austin Energy Manger Larry Weis admitted that staff “did duplicate quite a bit” in presentations to the RMC and the Electric Utility Commission.
“From the perspective of running the utility efficiently, I think it would be better to just have one commission,” said Weis. “I will say, I think those commission meetings will be a little longer.”
In general, the transition taskforce is planning to increase the membership on most of the city’s boards and commissions to 11, in order to reflect the new makeup of City Council. Commissioners would be appointed for four-year terms, except for the first appointments under the new Council, where those commissioners appointed by Council members who will only serve two years will also only serve two years (with that term exempt from inclusion in the maximum number of years they can serve.)
For boards that will consist of 11 members, the task force recommends that each will be nominated by a Council member, who will be encouraged – though not required – to nominate people from their district.
New commissioners are expected to be seated June 30, 2015. For boards with fewer than 11 members, the mayor could appoint those members – though that suggestion has not been embraced by everyone on the task force. Additionally, all appointments would be subject to a majority vote of council.
The task force has come up with several options for boards that do not currently consist of seven members, and will not consist of 11 in the future. These options mostly consist of having more members. The Planning Commission, for example, currently has nine members, and the taskforce recommends that it have 13 in the future. And the Downtown Commission could also have up to 19 members.
That is, if it still exists.
Noting that the city’s two land use commissions stand to have 24 members between them, task force members have also thought through the option of employing standing joint subcommittees that could address some of the more specialized land use categories currently served by individual commissions.
Task force members Dave Sullivan and Gabriel Rojas presented this idea at the March 31 meeting of the group. They explained that while the Historic Landmark Commission, Urban Transportation Commission and Community Development Commission could remain intact, standing joint subcommittees could be formed for Codes and Ordinances, the Comprehensive Plan (which are currently Planning Commission subcommittees), a new Small Area Planning Group (which would absorb the work of the Downtown Commission, the Waterfront Advisory Board, the Neighborhood Planning Group, and special projects like Airport Boulevard), a combination General Obligation Bonds/ Capital Improvement Plan group (instead of a Bond Oversight Committee).
The group also discussed merging the Design Commission and the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission into one board.
As part of the plan, some other commissions are also being considered for consolidation. The task force is considering an idea that the African-American Resource Commission, Asian-American Quality of Life Commission, Commission on Women and Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Commission all be consolidated under a tentatively-named “Inclusion Commission.”
Likewise, the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities and the Commission on Seniors could be combined, though staff has warned that lumping the Commission on Seniors group with another isn’t a good idea, given the time and effort that has gone into creating that commission.
The idea of a Cultural Commission that would include the Arts, Music, Library and Emma Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center Commission has faced immediate pushback from stakeholders and commission members, who feel that the commissions serve purposes and populations too disparate for a merger to work.
Additionally, a proposed Emergency Services Commission could include the Austin Travis County EMS and the Public Safety Commission. And the work of the Urban Forestry Board may, in the future, fall under the responsibilities of the Environmental Board.
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