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Boards & commissions transition marches onward

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Before it hands over the keys to City Hall, City Council has a few loose ends to tie up. One of the heftier items left to draft concerns how the city’s boards and commissions will handle the shift from the seven-member to the 11-member Council.

Early last month, Council members worked out most of the details for each of the 60-odd commissions appointed by Council. At its next meeting, it will approve a draft based on the work of the Boards and Commissions Task Force. But most likely the ultimate decision will be up to the new City Council, which will take over in January.

The city has put a lot of work into preparing for the transition, and though there have been a few skirmishes over some of the task force ideas, there was no opposition the last time Council members deliberated the transition — save a few people who wanted to be sure that the Animal Advisory Commission will have 11 members.

It will.

The City Clerk’s office has also done the work of cleaning up a few details, like using the word “commission” when possible, instead of randomly calling some commissions “boards” out of tradition.

Perhaps the biggest change that is proposed to take place is a reassignment of Planning Commission and Zoning and Platting Commission duties. Council will settle that and a proposal to dissolve the Downtown Commission into those two bodies at its Dec. 11 meeting.

Council did approve a recommendation to move the duties of the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board over to a subcommittee of the Planning Commission and ZAP, however.

Though Council Member Mike Martinez aired doubts that they would be able to find 22 people to serve on a revamped Building and Standards Commission, Council members chose to make that decision at their December meeting as well.

The Community Development Commission, which currently has 15 members (seven geographic and eight nominated by Council), is poised to stay a 15-member body, despite a staff recommendation to change its population to 19.

“We thought each Council member may want to make their own nomination,” said City Clerk Jannette Goodall.

Martinez disagreed.

“I actually would prefer 15 members. I think it’s going to be hard to find 19. So I’m going to leave it at that. But I have a feeling the new Council will change that, because they are going to want an appointee per Council member,” said Martinez, who suggested the members could be appointed by a committee of Council.

Per Council direction, the Sustainable Food Policy Board is also set to stay with 15 members instead of increasing.

The African American Resource Advisory Commission will absorb the African American Cultural & Heritage Facility and increase its membership to 15. Similarly, the Asian American Resource Center will be incorporated into the Asian Quality of Life Commission, which will also have 15 members. The four stakeholder members will be selected by the commissions.

The Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center Advisory Board and the Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission, however, will remain two separate entities. A suggestion to require joint quarterly meetings was dismissed, though Martinez said they were welcome to have joint meetings “whenever they want.”

Though the task force recommended that the duties of the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission be reassigned to the Design Commission, city legal advised against it and suggested that as part of the code rewrite process, the duties of the RDCC (which are specifically designated in city code) be reassigned to the Board of Adjustment.

A proposal for a “Joint Cultural Committee” comprising the Arts Commission, Music Commission, Asian American Resource Center, MACC, African American Cultural & Heritage Facility, Library Commission, Parks & Rec Board, Historic Landmark and Economic Prosperity Commission also was approved.

Many of the tougher decisions Council members faced were about whether existing commissions should be combined with other commissions or remain as is. As it stands now:

Whether the Public Safety Commission and the Downtown Austin Community Court Advisory Committee will be merged or remain separate has yet to be determined.

The Austin Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities and the Commission on Seniors are scheduled to remain separate.

The MBE/WBE Small Business Enterprise Procurement Program Advisory Committee and the Construction Advisory Committee will remain separate, despite the task force recommendation to the contrary.

Combining the Environmental Board and the Urban Forestry Board was less controversial, and they are slated to be merged as the “Environmental Commission.”

The Bond Oversight Commission will be reassigned to a new Economic and Capital Budget Joint subcommittee (of the Planning Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission.)

The Sign Review Board will be merged into the Board of Adjustment.

The Building and Fire Code Board of Appeals, Electrical Board, and the Mechanical, Plumbing and Solar Board will remain three separate entities, each with 11 members.

The Commission for Women will remain intact.

And, there will be a new “Economic Prosperity Commission” added to the long list of existing boards and commissions.

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