On Tuesday night this week, the City Council filled two important posts on the City's powerful Architectural Review Board (ARB) and Airport Commissions. I was disappointed to learn that a very qualified, long-time resident of Chico with years of experience in landscape design was passed over for the spot on the ARB. The reason he was not appointed, according to news reports of the interview process, was the potential for conflicts of interest that may arise if he serves on this board.
I'm sure the young woman appointed instead is bright and dedicated, even if she has absolutely no experience in the field of architecture, design or visual arts. But that isn't why I'm concerned.
It appears at first glance that folks who operate private business are now unilaterally ineligible to serve on Boards and Commissions based on the fact that their private business may, at some time or another, cause a conflict of interest with the work for the City. That's a bunch of hooey!
It's important to remember that City Boards and Commissions are set up to represent a cross-section of the community and serve as a bridge between average citizens and paid City staff and elected officials. It's critical that these Boards and Commissions are fully representative of the community through the 7 people who fill the seats. Right now it feels like the voice of business is being slowly eliminated from some of the critical decisions being made.
I served for 8 years as a member of the City Planning Commission during which time I was employed by a locally owned financial institution. From time to time, one of the banks clients would have a project before the Planning Commission. When that happened I would disclose the conflict of interest and excuse myself from the vote. Simple as that.
It may have happened more often than some people liked, but I will tell you that I participated in far more decisions than I sat out on, and I believe I brought a lot of real life, professional experience to the Commission.
It seems now, however, that the Council sees any potential future opportunity for a conflict of interest to be an eliminator in the appointment process. That situation then begs the question...who DOES remain eligible to perform this important community function?
If citizens who work in private business are excluded, that leaves only government employees, students or retirees. Certainly including a mix of those folks in these important jobs is perfectly fine, but leaving private business out altogether is just wrong.
It's difficult enough to find qualified, bright, dedicated folks who are willing to give of their time and energy to serve in this capacity considering the long hours they already work to keep their business successful enough to continue paying their employees and meet their tax burden. When one of them steps forward we should be celebrating the gifts they bring to the table, the constituency they represent, and their willingness to do what's right for our community.
Instead we tell them "thanks, but no thanks".
I admit I haven't spoken to any of the Council members directly to hear their explanation of this decision. I'm sure I will in the days/weeks ahead. In the meantime I am certain that I'm voicing the views of hundreds of folks employed by private business who increasingly feel shut out of the process.
It's one thing to listen to the voices of private business and disagree with their concerns. It's something entirely different to exclude them from the conversation in the first place.
That's just plain disappointing.