Mayor Tait wants to re-structure the city’s commissions and boards so members are appointed from council districts, just as the city council is elected on a by-district basis. That way, councilmembers would control appointments from their districts to each commission and board. Those appointees would have to be residents of the district they represent (with the exception of the at-large mayor).
While there’s a superficial logic to this scheme, it’s a flawed scheme. There’s no compelling policy rationale, and no problem for which this is a solution. It’s change for the sake of change – a progressive political value, to be sure, but hardly an example of conservative governance.
For starters, this would have the effect of restricting opportunities for Anaheim citizens to serve on the city’s boards and commissions. Generally speaking, council members will tend to appoint their political supporters. Constituents on their councilmember’s naughty list will be shut out. This dynamic would be compounded by the fact that under by-district election, Anaheim council members will rarely be elected by majorities – and often by small pluralities. In District 1, for example, 73% of the voter supported someone other than Councilwoman Denise Barnes.
The tendency will be for council members to use their appointment powers to build their political operation within their district, shutting out anyone who isn’t on “their” team. That will certainly be the case with the current majority – anyone doubting that is blind to the intensely political nature of its constituencies. This tendency would be particularly pronounced in District 3 under Councilman Jose F. Moreno. Progressive activists are keen practitioners of dictum that personnel is policy – the central Orange County’s cadre especially so.
Not exactly in keeping with the “neighbors representing neighbors” spirit used to sell by-district elections to the voters.
Politics are inseparable from government, but since boards and commissions aren’t policy-making bodies, limiting the intrusion of politics into their operation is a desirable thing. Districting, though, would enhance the propensity for politicization. This would be most pronounced in bodies like the Planning Commission where the temptation to engage in policy-making and parochial politicking is greatest. Will the “district prerogative” mentality seep in to Planning Commission rulings? If a an applicant’s project is in District X, is the planning commissioner from that district accorded deference by his or her colleagues? If so, is it fair to the applicant to be at the mercy of a single member (and vulnerable to the abuses to which this kind of politicization leads)?
Even its districting proponents will concede that parochialism is inherent in cities governed under by-district council election systems. Rather than extending that dynamic throughout the city’s commissions and boards, it would be preferable to leave the current at-large system in place as a counterbalance to council district parochialism. Furthermore, it would afford citizens more opportunities for public service by denying councilmembers a choke hold on appointments from their districts.
Anaheim’s experiment in by-district governance is just a few months old, and the city council itself is still split between members elected at-large and by-district. The prudent thing is to see how this shakes out and impacts the dynamics of governing before rushing to render appointments to city boards and commissions district-based simply for the sake of doing so.