City staff is requesting an ordinance to clarify the role and procedures of the city’s various advisory bodies, such as task forces and commissions established by the city council. The ordinance would not apply to charter commissions. An item regarding the ordinance was placed on, and subsequently removed at the last minute from, the Long Beach City Council’s July 10 agenda, but will be reintroduced at an undetermined time, according to Assistant City Manager Tom Modica.
“Over the years, we’ve added a number of commissions and we have really utilized our commissions in a different manner,” Modica said. “Over the last several years, we have had very active commissions that want to participate, which is a good thing, but we find sometimes that there is a lack of clarity in our rules.”
The agenda item identifies nine areas that would be clarified within the ordinance:
• advisory body agendas;
• access to city staff;
• authority over city officers and employees;
• city council agendas;
• conflicts of interest;
• membership by city employees;
• the removal of members;
• annual reports; and
• a requirement to adhere to the Brown Act and Robert’s Rules of Order.
Modica noted that it was not one specific incident that caused staff to request the ordinance but rather a long-overdue need to update city policy and language.
The new ordinance would clarify the permissible uses of city staff by commissions. According to Modica, commissions are not permitted to request city staff to initiate programs or major studies. He noted that staff can accommodate simpler requests for reports and data, but that anything more extensive requires city council direction and approval. Staff would like these requests to be more formal, with commission members going through the chair who would make the request on behalf of the commission, Modica added.
“Staff is pretty good now at saying if something will be a large undertaking requiring a lot of dollars and might not be something we can do,” Modica said. “But we’d like to have that written down in an ordinance and in the handbook that we give the commissioners so they know what the expectations are when they get onto these bodies.”
Some commissions have had issues meeting a quorum at meetings. The ordinance would attempt to put an end to that by allowing members to be removed without council action if they have unexcused absences from three meetings in a six-month period. Modica said there are very few commissioners who would fall under this provision, but that certain commissions, such as the former Commission on Youth and Children (CYC) that did not have a quorum for over a year, could benefit from it. At the July 10 meeting, the council voted to dissolve the CYC and establish the Commission on Youth and Families in an attempt to fix the issues.
The ordinance would allow commissioners to provide input and take a position on items that were not referred to them by the city council, Modica explained. He said there is currently no mechanism for that, but the ordinance would allow the commission chair to submit a report to the mayor and city council on behalf of the commission.
Additional language related to conflict of interest procedures, annual reporting requirements, prohibiting city employees from serving on an advisory body, and identifying which city staff position is charged with setting advisory bodies’ agendas would also be included in the ordinance.
“I see it as efficiency and a way to streamline their work,” Modica said. “It also allows staff to spend its resources in the best way that we can in keeping with the mayor and council policy direction. I don’t see things changing that much. It provides some clarity.”
The city currently has 219 active commissioners, according to Modica. With the recent appointment of six women by Mayor Robert Garcia, women make up the majority – 114 seats – of Long Beach commissioners for the first time in the city’s history.