Tuesday, June 9, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy

Many boards and commissions seats still vacant

While City Council members have almost 300 spots to fill on commissions and boards before current membership expires on July 1, some groups have adjourned their June meetings still uncertain about who will be seated next month.

With Commissioner Reynaldo Moreno absent, the Public Safety Commission last week voted unanimously to cancel its July meeting because members were not assured they would have a majority, or quorum, present.

“I’ve been putting the pressure on the mayor and Council to continue making appointments,” said Boards and Commissions Coordinator Deena Estrada. “There’s a lot of guilty emails going out, or my stomping of feet in front of the mayor’s office. I’ll send an email saying we now have only five boards that are able to meet quorum. … I can handle the guilt trip pretty well.”

City clerk Janette Goodall told the Austin Monitor in December that her office would like to see Council members turn in all their nominations by the end of May. That, obviously, has not happened. In fact, Council members have made less than half of their required appointments.

This year, Council members have been tasked with appointing more members to boards and commissions than ever before – members of the former Council voted to overhaul the city’s boards and commissions system to better jibe with the new 10-1 makeup on the dais. Most boards and commissions will now have 11 members, rather than seven, with one appointment being made by each Council member and one by Mayor Steve Adler.

Several boards and commissions do not have a quorum as of June 4, when Council last approved nominations. These include the African American Resource Commission, the Historic Landmark Commission and the Water and Wastewater Commission.

In addition to being tasked with appointing roughly 200 more members than its predecessors, the new Council has faced several controversial nominees. At Council’s meeting on May 7, members nixed two of Council Member Don Zimmerman’s appointments to the Public Safety Commission and the Commission on Immigrant Affairs because of what they said were insensitive social media posts by the appointees.

Council Member Greg Casar said the time spent vetting these candidates could have been put to better use. “There are people that could have diverse viewpoints that would not cause us to take so much of our time that we really need to dedicate to greater policy issues,” he said at the meeting in early May.

One added strain on time is that all new and incumbent members have to complete various training modules. Estrada told the Austin Monitor that she estimates the training takes 3.5 hours, including in-person training plus four online modules. The sessions cover information such as the Texas Opening Meetings Act, which includes rules that govern when meeting materials should be posted online and what a member should do if he or she has a conflict of interest.

Council members will vote again to approve more nominees to boards and commissions at its next meeting on June 11.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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