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Jan 29 Agenda Topic: H-2 (Commissions/Committees)

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2019 16:30:04 -0800

Hello Council,

I see that your Consent Calendar for the January 29 meeting includes an
item (H2) related to the Commissions/Committees Policies and Procedures
Roles. I respectfully ask that you consider pulling this item from the
Consent Calendar so that you can have a meaningful discussion about needed
changes to the MP commissions. Unfortunately, the public may have missed
this item and so you might not get much input.

As you know, I served as a Commissioner, I've attended other
Commission/Committee meetings, and I've gotten to know other commissioners
serving. When those serving speak privately, I have heard that commission
service is not meaningful. Commissioners question their role or the purpose
of the commission. Thus it's not surprising that some commissioners have
reigned early or have not applied to renew their service. When I first
joined the Library Commission, I applied because I kept seeing notices of
cancelled meetings due to a lack of a quorum. In other words, not enough
had come forward to serve! Other problems that I've heard about include the
way that many commissions are very staff directed. The staff decides what
they will discuss. While we all need to work together, it seems that the
commissions are mostly set up to serve staff interests. Instead, they
should serve the public good and the residents' interests.

Aside from the Planning Commission, I also notice that most of the
commission agenda topics fall into either the routine business category
(i.e. approving minutes, scheduling future meeting) or the Informational
category. The agendas alone show that there is little time devoted to
deliberation on matters of substance at these advisory commission meetings.
For another helpful start, you could set a policy expectation that 80% or
more of a commission meeting's time be devoted to *meaningful* Regular
Business topics. That's a best practice used by non-profit boards that want
more effective meetings.

The commission roles inadequately provide meaningful opportunities for
those serving. They also inadequately serve the democratic ideas of
transparency, accountability and oversight. An immediate helpful change
would be to set a new expectation that all major staff reports must first
be reviewed by *at least *one Commission *before* the report goes to
Council. One of our neighboring cities includes a commission check box on a
staff reports as a boilerplate expectation that *all *staff reports are
reviewed, sometimes by multiple commissions, *before* they go to Council.
In Menlo Park, I suspect that most staff reports go directly to Council
without first being reviewed by at least one commission. While perhaps this
would slow business down in MP, it would be better for you and the public
to make this change. It would reduce the number of staff reports that
contain some element of slant/bias (towards what staff wants done) and/or
incomplete information. The result would include better decision-making
information for you as you would then know that the public had a chance to
weigh in prior to your receiving the staff report. If you agree, can you
incorporate this idea into Council Policy CC-01-0004?

I also suggest that all commissions discuss the below agenda topic (or some
version of it):

*Regular Business *
Discuss ways to evolve Commission X's charter to provide more engaging
roles for those serving, to incorporate best practices, and to increase the
opportunity for meaningful public engagement towards a more democratic
Menlo Park.

Due to my own commission service and what I heard from others, I became
very interested in the ways to improve public engagement. I've since
learned that there is a whole body of knowledge on this topic. For example,
the Public Agenda
has the Strengthening and Sustaining Public Engagement
with its last page devoted to actionable suggestions. The last suggestion,
No. 10, focuses on the role of advisory committees and I incorporated their
language into my agenda suggestion above. Their longer related booklet
more details and other helpful links. Some cities, such as Santa Rosa, have
an Office of Community Engagement
<https://www.srcity.org/250/Community-Engagement> and a job description for
a Community Engagement Coordinator.
Rosa is working to embed public engagement throughout its city, so this
important work is not just regulated to one person.

At your Feb 2 goal-setting setting meeting, I plan to submit a goal related
to public engagement. In case you want to learn more on this topic prior, I
recommend Making Public Participation Legal
the National Civic League, and the Harvard Report, Sustaining Public
I'm delighted at the changes to the upcoming Feb 2 goal setting meeting
from the previously planned format. From the inviting tone of the
invitation, to the Saturday date, to the collection of input beforehand via
the form, to the longer time-frame and likely a revamped agenda too-- all
conveys a solid step forward towards embedding meaningful public engagement
in Menlo Park!
Received on Fri Jan 25 2019 - 16:27:37 PST

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