PASADENA — A plan to restructure the city's 31 advisory commissions to better reflect the ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic makeup of the city was derailed this week by a compromise forged in private that largely maintains the status quo.
The compromise, devised by Directors William Thomson, Rick Cole and Kathryn Nack, was approved by the board Monday to avoid losing the expertise of the more than 200 commissioners whose positions were jeopardized by a plan approved earlier this month.
That plan called for the resignations of all municipal commissioners to give the directors free rein in approving a new and broader range of panel members.
The compromise, which was formulated during a private meeting at Thomson's home Sunday, ensures that most of the current commissioners will be reappointed.
Unlike the original plan, the compromise restricts directors to appointing only those now serving on the commissions. With the compromise plan, all the commissioners' terms will expire June 30, at which time the directors will reappoint all commissioners who wish to continue serving. The new terms will range from one to three years, and the directors will be allowed to select anyone of their choosing when a vacancy occurs.
The compromise plan was approved on a 4-3 vote, with Cole and Directors William Paparian and Jess Hughston opposing the proposal.
Although he was one of the authors of the compromise, Cole cast a no vote at the end of the debate, saying that he could live with either proposal, but that the "clean-sweep" approach seemed fairer and less complicated.
Paparian, the most vocal opponent of the compromise, said it "makes a charade out of our stated intent that there be the greatest geographic diversity on the commissions."
He said the compromise would keep the membership of the commissions in the hands of residents of wealthy neighborhoods who now fill nearly half of the commission seats.
In a heated debate Monday, Paparian said the private, "back-room" discussions that led to the compromise also violated the state's open-meeting law.
Under state law, members of a public agency, such as the Board of Directors, can meet in private if less than a quorum of the full agency is present. Four of the seven members of the Board of Directors constitute a quorum.
But public officials are not allowed to hold a series of private "less-than-quorum" meetings with the intention of forming a consensus, according to City Atty. Victor Kaleta.
Paparian said Cole contacted him after the meeting to seek his vote, which he believed was a violation of state law.
Cole said he called Paparian not to solicit his vote, but to explain the proposal.
Paparian said he intends to ignore the compromise and appoint his own choices to the various commissions.
Cole said the full board has the final say on all commission appointments and could refuse to approve Paparian's choices. But he added: "I guess we'll burn that bridge when we get to it."
The compromise was devised to allay criticism from Nack and some commissioners that the original plan was unfair and disruptive since the commissions stood to lose some experienced members.
The panels, such as the Planning Commission and Design Commission, are made up of volunteers who advise the board on citywide issues.
Under the first plan approved Nov. 16, each of the seven directors would have been allowed to make one appointment to each commission. The rest of the appointments for commissions with more than seven members would have been made by Mayor John Crowley.
Most directors had said they would first consider current commissioners, but might also consider others.
The board originally planned to restructure all the commissions in January.
Thomson said the compromise, which phases in the restructuring over a three-year period, accomplishes the same thing as the "clean-sweep" proposal, except that it will take more time to complete.
Defeat Board's Efforts
But Paparian said quick action is important and restricting the choice to current commissioners would defeat the board's efforts to increase the diversity of the commissioners.
According to an informal survey by The Times of 12 municipal commissions, residents from the poorer northwest and central Pasadena areas, who make up 30% of the city's population, hold less than 10% of the commission seats.
Some of the most impoverished areas, where the median family income drops to as low as $9,800 a year, are virtually unrepresented.
Residents from the city's most affluent neighborhoods, such as Linda Vista, San Rafael and Oak Knoll, make up nearly half of the commission appointees.
The racial and ethnic balance of the commissions is representative of the city as a whole, the survey found.