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Mass Resignations Urged in Pasadena in Name of Balance

November 05, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — In a move aimed at correcting the under-representation of the city's poor and middle class, three members of the Board of Directors have called for the resignations of all appointees serving on municipal boards and commissions.

The proposal by Directors Rick Cole, Jess Hughston and William Thomson would open more than 250 commission seats to allow the board to appoint more commissioners from poor and middle-class neighborhoods.

Thomson said he expects most of the current commissioners, who oversee a variety of issues, including redevelopment, land use and transportation, to be reappointed.

"We have a body of expertise that we don't want to lose," he said. "There is no perfect way to do this. But we believe this is the easiest and most equitable way to do it."

Mayor John Crowley said he supports the proposal but suggested that steps be taken to prevent the board from making a wholesale sweep of commissioners. He recommended that panelists with long terms remaining be guaranteed reappointment.

Caught Off Guard

The recommendation, which has the support of a majority of the board, startled some commissioners after it was proposed Monday during the regular meeting of the Board of Directors.

"My first reaction is that it seemed pretty drastic. It caught everyone off guard," said Kathleen Shilkret, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission. "There's been no indication that anyone has done a bad job."

Despite their surprise, some commissioners accepted the possibility of losing their positions.

"The commissions are designed to serve the board. It's really up to them," said Nancy Leon, chairman of the Transportation Commission. "Most people choose to serve not because they're after something, but because they really want to help the city. If we're not reappointed, it's not a personal slap."

Design Commission Chairman William Ellinger said the proposal would foster a "Los Angeles-ization" of city politics in which special interests and neighborhood representatives would fight territorial battles over citywide issues.

But Cole called that possibility a "worry in search of a problem." He said directors do not intend to make residency the sole criterion in judging candidates for a commission.

"It's one criterion, but so are many other things," he said.

New System

The proposal grew out of an informal meeting Saturday at which Cole, Hughston and Thomson discussed ways to restructure the panels to correct the under-representation of neighborhoods in northwest and east Pasadena.

Under a new appointment system agreed to in August, each director is allowed to appoint one member to each of the city's 31 advisory panels, as seats become vacant.

But because of staggered terms, the three directors believed the phase-in process would be too lengthy and complicated.

Under the new proposal, the board would "start from scratch," Thomson said.

By Jan. 31, each of the seven directors would select one candidate for each of the panels. The selections would be reviewed by the full board.

The mayor would appoint additional members on commissions that have more than seven members, drawing from a list of candidates recommended by other board members.

Director William Paparian urged using direct mailing and newspaper advertising to attract applicants.

"It all has to do with the dissemination of information," said John Kennedy, head of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People's Pasadena chapter.

Special Concerns

Over the last decade, the city has named dozens of ethnic minorities and women to city panels and has created several commissions to deal with special concerns of minorities and women.

Despite these gains, the city's most impoverished and troubled neighborhoods have remained outsiders to City Hall.

According to an informal survey by The Times of 12 municipal commissions that deal with citywide issues, including planning, parks and utilities, residents from the poorer northwest and central Pasadena areas, who make up 30% of the city's population, hold less than 10% of positions on the panels. About 10 of the 107 members on these 12 commissions live in these neighborhoods.

Some of the most impoverished neighborhoods, where the median family income can dip as low as $9,800 a year, have virtually no representation.

The lack of representation is not limited to the poor.

In east Pasadena, a swath of middle-class neighborhoods above Foothill Boulevard between Allen and Sierra Madre Villa avenues has even fewer appointees on municipal commissions--about seven of the 107 members on the 12 panels. About 13% of the city's population lives in that area.

"It's a serious omission," said Hughston, whose district covers part of that area. "It just happened with no one planning it."

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