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Albany City Hall

If you're thinking that the debate between Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa and some members of the City Council regarding appointments to city boards and commissions is a symptom of deeper divisions on the council, you are correct.

Those divisions likely will affect Albany City Hall for months, and possibly years — unless all the parties involved decide, for the benefit of the city and its citizens, to find ways to work together despite their differences.

As for these appointments to city boards and commissions, there's no reason why this issue should be particularly divisive. The concerns that Councilor Rich Kellum and others are raising are valid, to a point, but they also are concerns that could be dealt with through existing processes — and, to some extent, by councilors who always have an eye out for constituents who can be groomed, with a little bit of encouragement, for a city board.

The city has 20 advisory boards, commissions and committees. The mayor makes appointments for nine of those; this is one of the few actual powers that the mayor has. All of the mayor's nominations are subject to ratification by the council.

The mayor and council jointly make nominations for six of the bodies; the council itself appoints the members of three of the bodies. The members of the Planning Commission appoint the hearings board. The last body is a limited-duration task force, with members chosen by staff and the council selecting a representative.

Now, some councilors are making the case that the council should have more of a role in appointing members to all of the boards.

Kellum said allowing one person (the mayor) to make so many appointments leads to boards in which all the members share the same mindset, which doesn't allow for a diversity of opinion. (He added that his concerns regarding appointments have nothing to do with Konopa.)

For her part, Konopa said it's not her intent to appoint people with one specific mindset to any specific board. It is true, of course, that people interested in serving on, say, the Arts Commission probably have an interest in arts and so do have a certain mindset. But it would be silly (and, potentially, divisive) to add people who couldn't care less about the arts to that commission.

About 20 people were scheduled to be ratified for their board positions at the council's meeting Wednesday, but that will be delayed while city staff members examine the process through which appointments are made; in the meantime, it's possible that some of those city boards will struggle to convene quorums.

Kellum said (and the city's attorney concurs) that making changes to the appointment process will not require amending the city charter, which would have required a vote of the public.

But it seems to us that councilors already have sufficient say without making wholesale changes. Even in the boards where all the members are appointed by the mayor, the council could elect not to ratify a nomination.

Councilors also could increase their efforts to identify and groom people in their wards who seem interested in serving on boards. Councilors then could submit those names to the mayor. Although the city did a nice job this year of goosing the number of applicants, it's not as if it's dealing with hundreds of people raising their hands to serve in these volunteer jobs: The mayor would be foolish to dismiss out of hand nominations suggested by councilors.

The people who serve on these city boards aren't doing it for the money (these all are volunteer positions) or because they really want to spend their evenings in rooms with fluorescent lighting: They're doing it because they want to serve the community or because they have an interest in a specific area. Continued fussing and fighting over the nominations process could result in a climate in which would-be appointees decide it's not worth getting caught in the crossfire. (mm)


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