Editorial: When it comes to city appointments, the devil is in the details
2.40.100 is just a number. (Well, sort of) It's not famous like 3.14 (as in pi) or 51 (as in Area) or 1 (as in 'the loneliest number that you'll ever do').
But as the number of a controversial municipal code, it's earned quite a reputation with the Sonoma City Council of late.
Municipal code 2.40.100 is the dictum whereby the City grants the Mayor the privilege of nominating candidates to open seats on local commissions. It works like this: Civic-minded folks apply for a vacant seat on, oh I don't know… let's say the planning commission. All the candidates are interviewed for 15 minutes by the Mayor and one other council member, then the Mayor nominates one of the applicants to the post. That nomination is then brought before the other four members of the council at their next meeting, and they will then consider ratifying the appointment.
It all sounds so boringly simple.
But things got sticky earlier this spring when two of Mayor David Cook's commission nominations were stonewalled by council members Gary Edwards and Rachel Hundley, neither of whom thought Cook's nominees were sufficiently qualified for their prospective posts. But instead of simply voting against the appointments, the nomination neutralizers on the council called for the removal of the ratification votes themselves from the meeting agenda.
Though both appointments were eventually ratified at a later meeting, it was a clear rebuke of Cook's appointment prowess, and one of the few public instances of disharmony on the council since it swore in three rookies at the end of last year.
But more importantly, it brought up the question: Should the City change the way it appoints candidates to open commission seats? It's a question that the council is set to address at its next meeting on Monday, June 1.
To be blunt, yes it should. It's a process that relies far too much on a single person's acumen, or lack there of, at hiring people. The alternatives, however, can be problematic, as well.
Here's how a lot of cities do it: They bring up all the candidates at the beginning of a council meeting, and give them three minutes to make their pitch for the job before all five council members. As fair as this seems, it can also be a superficial method of selecting civic authorities, as attractive applicants with public speaking skills have a notable advantage over the nebbish do-gooder with a passion for design and review. Yet, it could very well be the latter who makes the better design and review board commissioner. A big free-for-all like that also favors city 'insiders' who may be known to the council members and sew up a couple of votes out of the gate based on that alone.
So what then – just keep letting the Mayor act as 'kingmaker'? Well, yes. Voters elect people to the council because they're entrusting them to make reasonable decisions on behalf of the town – that means not blowing it with your choice for citizens advisory commission.
And don't forget – the other four council members can reject the choice. And herein lies the problem with the current system – only one of those four (the one who joined the Mayor in conducting interviews) has any deep knowledge about the slate of applicants. Therefore, three of the council members are voting on an appointment they know little about. (Thus, they tend to blindly trust their mayoral colleague and vote 'aye.')
A simple solution is to open up the interviews to the entire council, giving the remaining three members a chance to sit in if they so choose. If they skip it, they've got little redress during the ratification process. Also, make sure all the candidate applications are available to the council members – you can tell a lot by a simple resume, and it would at least give the entire council a working knowledge of whom they're voting on.
Because when it comes to municipal code 2.40.100, it seems a little knowledge would go a long way.