Albany city councilors this week addressed three questions in a proposal to change how individuals are appointed to city advisory committees:
• Should committees with five members should be increased to seven?
• Should residency be a requirement?
• Should councilors be required to appoint individuals who reside in their ward?
At its Monday work session, the council made quick work of deciding to increase membership of the tree, parks and recreation and traffic safety commissions from five to seven members. Then it descended into debate over the remaining questions.
Councilor Bill Coburn boiled down the discussion on board composition to a single argument: Are advisory boards and committees special interest groups or do they serve the city of Albany?
“What I’m struggling with is, let’s take parks,” Coburn said. “Would you appoint people to parks who are passionate about parks or for diversity, would you appoint someone who thinks we have too many parks and thinks we should sell the land?”
Councilor Rich Kellum argued that requiring councilors to appoint from within their wards would organically create more diverse advisory boards.
“People in Ward III tend to be more conservative than people in Ward I,” he said. “In Ward III, people don’t have as much of a vested interest in CARA (the Central Albany Revitalization Area, the city's urban renewal agency) as in Ward I. So, you would tend to have more skeptics about that in Ward III than Ward I.”
Coburn questioned whether advisory boards were true representations of the community or advocated for the opinions of the individuals seated on the boards.
City Manager Peter Troedsson said staff did not give extra weight to the advice offered by these boards but instead includes their opinions as part of a larger package of information it presents to the City Council.
Mayor Sharon Konopa agreed and argued that advisory boards are not decision-makers and have no authority to create policy.
“What you would end up doing, and that’s fine if you want to turn them [advisory boards] into more divisive groups, but what you’re going to do is drive away the very supportive people in our city who are being advocates and volunteering.”
Councilor Dick Olsen agreed with Konopa and noted that the city received a substantial amount of labor from volunteers on advisory boards and committees.
“I’d just hate to see anything wreck it,” he said, adding that the city would be “much poorer” if advisory boards became contentious.
When it came to whether individuals on the boards should have to live within city limits, the council was split, although a majority appeared to agree to require individuals to live inside the city. (Because it was a work session, no formal vote was taken.)
Currently, the airport advisory committee allows for three members to live outside the city. The tree commission only requires that members own property or a business within the city limits.
In discussing if councilors should have to appoint from within their wards, Konopa said no councilor should have an issue finding someone in their ward to serve on a board.
Councilor Alex Johnson II suggested language that said councilors should do their due diligence in searching within their district but would be permitted to appoint from outside their district if unable to find a suitable appointee.
Troedsson said he would take the discussion back to staff and return with ordinances and resolutions to make changes to the committee appointment process.