Council Ponders Citizen Committees
The most prominent citizen committee in 2009 was the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee, which studied city revenues and spending as the governing body itself moved through the FY 2010 budget process. Unfortunately, the CBAC's final report and recommendations were given on the same night (Feb. 8, 2010) that the council adopted amendments to the budget, meaning the citizens' advice was in effect moot for the budget year that began July 1. For the coming 2011 state fiscal year, both the council and the CBAC are seeking early discussions. The council expects to name FY 2011 CBAC members next month, although the actual budget will not be received from the administration until after the close of the current fiscal year on June 30.
Two other committees, Information Technology and Economic Growth, attracted such citizen interest that there were waiting lists for each one last year. However, Councilman Adrian Mapp said Monday he was "more than a little disappointed" that after the Information Technology appointments were made, nothing was done. Part of the problem may have been that there was no IT manager or division in place last year, but Mapp said he felt even without an IT division, the committee could have been put to good use.
The city now has a new IT manager, Chris Payne, but Councilman Rashid Burney cautioned the IT committee was not supposed to "run the department." Council President Annie McWilliams said the point of the committees was "to advise us."
New City Administrator Bibi Taylor also had a caveat. She said the administration was always ready to provide resources, but had limitations. (One round of layoffs just took place at City Hall and another is coming.) She asked the council to remember that the committees were to work with the governing body.
Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said it needs to be well-defined what each committee's resonsibility is "and what it is not."
The first citizen budget committee in 2008 produced a scathing "report card" that found fault with both the governing body and the administration. The one formed last year took a more collegial approach, but councilmembers stressed the need to orientation sessions before new citizen committees begin working. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs recalled the report card Monday and asked that all citizen committee requests go through the city administrator's office, except for "media and communications," which would go through her office. The mayor said she wanted to avoid having "a million requests" submitted all different ways.
Burney said the council should set goals and then ask the citizens to take part.
As for Economic Growth, Councilman Cory Storch said the group talked about developing a "tactical plan" which would go into operations. Storch said he did not want to see a committee appointed not knowing what it was to do. He also asked what kind of cooperation was possible between the committee and the mayor.
(In all, Monday's discussion of citizen committees seemed to reveal more of the pitfalls of recruiting residents than the usefulness of the groups. Plaintalker suggests exit interviews with those who served last time to see whether they felt the structure was worthwhile or not, before setting up new committees. The new cabinet needs time to get acclimated and is still lacking key fiscal administrators. How to avoid a clamor of requests for information from people who have just set foot in City Hall and are facing leaner support staffing than their predecessors? Comments are invited.)