Seeing Chris Bradford's piece today on the new makeup of some of the key City of Austin Board and Commission memberships, I'd thought I'd expand a bit in laying out the membership of two of them which he was referring to. In either case, his original post is still worth reading in it's entirety though I do quote from it here.
It is well known that the City of Austin Planning Commission is a pipeline for higher office and whose appointed membership greatly effects the direction and design of the city. This May's race between Chris Riley and Perla Cavazos, both former Planning Commission members being case in point. But with the current retirements, expirations of terms, replacements, and upcoming term expirations, it's clear that the Planning Commission as a whole has drifted towards a heavier influence by the Austin Neighborhoods Council.
Here is the new make-up of the Planning Commission with the year in which their terms expire (so most recent appointments are at the top).
2011: Chair, Dave Sullivan (Reappointed- Shade)
2011: Vice Chair, Jay Reddy (Reappointed- Riley)
2011: Danette Chimenti (Spelman)
2011: Kathie Tovo (Morrison)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
2010: Mandy Dealey (Wynn)
2010: Clint Small (Wynn)
2010: Saundra Kirk (Cole)
2010: Dave Anderson (Wynn)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
2009: Gerardo Castillo (Martinez)*
*term expires this Friday
The bolded names are brand new to the board and both are very closely aligned with the ANC. Councilman Spelman's appointment Danette Chimenti was Morrison's successor to the ANC. Morrion's appointment Kathie Tovo, former Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association President, was almost a candidate this spring in the Place 1 race and is thought to still have council aspirations. Commission member Dealey ran previously in 2005 for Council, losing in a 4 way race to Jennifer Kim.
With the Planning Commission having in the last year lost Chris Ewen (not reappointed) this indicates a shift on the board. A close eye should be given to Martinez's next appointment as Castillo's partial term expires this Friday. Beyond that, Mayor Leffingwell will get to replace all 3 of Mayor Wynn's appointments next summer so given his close relationship with Martinez, will make or break the direction and diversity of the Planning Commisison in its next iteration.
Also of note from Bradford's piece was the Board of Adjustment which is the funnel through which variance requests are routed (for instance, business designations for noise requests). Another 9-member board like the Planning Commission, two "nay" votes can kill a variance request.
Councilwoman Morrison has appointed quintessential neighborhood activist, and once again, former ANC President Jeff Jack to the Board of Adjustment where he will join former ANC President Bryan King who Bradford notes as "a reliable nay vote". The other appointments from last week include former ANC South Central Representative Clarke Hammond (Leffingwell) and the reappointment of Nora Salinas (Martinez).
And then there's Morrison's choice of Mary Arnold for the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board which guides the development debate along Lady Bird Lake. That one's already stirred up controversy beyond Bradford with the Austin Chronicle critiquing the choice as not following the Waterfront Overlay ordinance's commands for a diverse professional board with specific categories of representation which Arnold may or may not particularly fit.
In sum, none of this is to say that appointments to city boards and commissions will behave or vote in similar patterns just because they have similar backgrounds in their activism and interaction with the City. But Bradford's closing statement in his article is all to true, and is reflective of what happens under our current system of local government.
Someone should just draw up a list of the dozen or so neighborhood representatives who seem to serve on every board and commission. When one is appointed, we can cross her off the list and move to the next name. When we get to the end of the list, we can simply return to the top of the list.
I thought Austin had a deeper pool of neighborhood activists.
I've commented on this before. So long as Austin is captivated by low turnout and lack of interest from the broader electorate, we will be captivated by a limited pool of dedicated activists whose ranks are not growing in proportion to the city's population. While some of those long time activists are revered institutions and others reviled (it often just depends on which side of a local skirmish you are on), the question might be would Austin's citizen-government be improved by having more activists on top of just long time activists?
On a personal note- it is easy to offer a critique in Austin and I think that's healthy to the larger debate we as a community are having on the nature and structure of our government (single member districts, campaign finance, public financing, etc). But in addition to words, there is action. And along those lines, I'm now serving with the newly created Austin Bike Theft Task Force which is making some real progress, and am in discussions to help restart my own inactive neighborhood association, Kealing, in Central East Austin.