REPORT: OUTREACH, COMMUNICATIONS AND APPOINTMENTS COMMITTEE (OCA) (11/4/19)

Present : Councilor Alisa Brewer (at-large), Councilor Darcy Dumont (District 5), Councilor Evan Ross (Chair. District 4), Councilor George Ryan (District 3) and Councilor Sarah Swartz (District 1).  Staff: Town Manager Paul Bockelman

Hightlights

  • Councilors recommended approval by the full Council of the Town Manager’s nominations to the following boards, commissions and  committees: Agricultural Commission, Cultural Council, Disability Access Advisory Committee, Human Rights Commission, Munson Memorial Library Building Board of Trustees, and Transportation Advisory Committee.
  • Councilors began discussion for revising appointment procedures for town boards, commissions and committees.

Appointments
OCA reviewed Town Manager Paul Bockelman’s nominations to six boards, committees, and commissions.  The names of nominees and their profiles can be found here. Bockelman was present for part of the meeting and took questions from OCA. 

Agriculture Commission
Councilor Sarah Swartz raised concerns about appointing someone from Hadley (Cassandra Uricchio) to the Agriculture Commission, while noting past difficulties in getting Amherst farmers to serve.

Bockelman responded that the Idea was that anyone appointed to the Commission from another town should be affiliated with UMass agriculture programs, as has been the case for several previous appointees, and should bring skills that the Commission needs. Bockelman added that it would be great if farmers in town would step up for work on this Commission, but that hasn’t been the case. He also noted that these positions have been hard to fill and that the Commission’s charge does not require residence in the town but rather demonstrable  agricultural skills and experiences. He added that there were no additional applications from residents of Amherst to consider, although there were additional applications from residents of other towns. 

Swartz said that it has been hard to attract farmers to the Commission because they don’t have faith in it or in its past operations.\

Disability Access  Advisory Committee
Bockelman was questioned as to why some nominees have served multiple terms on the Committee, including one who has served continuously for twelve years. He was also asked whether the requirement that at least 50 percent of the Committee members have disabilities has been met. Bockelman reported that the 50 percent threshold has been met, with all but two or three members having a disability. He noted that because this Committee has had difficulties getting appointees to come to meetings, he prioritized people who could be relied on to attend meetings. 

Human Rights Commission
Bockelman reported that the student representative on the Human Rights Commission was one of several student applicants with outstanding interviews. Councilor Evan Ross mentioned that student service on this Commission is not limited to the designated student position.

Cultural Council
Ross observed that nominees to the Council were heavily weighted to the visual arts. Bockelman said that this was an artifact of the applicant pool and that there is no explicit need or intention to diversify appointments across different types of arts. 

Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC)
Councilor Darcy Dumont questioned the Town Manager’s decision not to reappoint Eve Vogel to the Committee. Vogel is chair of a TAC sub-committee that is setting priorities for pedestrian and bicycle issues, and also serves as TAC’s liaison to the Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC).  ECAC gives considerable attention to transportation matters. She asked why Vogel was being replaced and expressed displeasure with the way Vogel was being excluded. Apparently, it was not made clear to members of the committee that they need to apply and that their terms were up and Vogel missed the application deadline.  Dumont argued that there ought to be a requirement that committee members be notified in writing when their terms are due to end, as well as notice if they are not going to be reappointed. Dumont expressed displeasure with the fact that Committee Chair Aaron Hayden, who was reappointed for another term, is on the Committee that interviews candidates and advises the Town Manager about them.

OCA members have voiced concern about committee chairs’ involvement in the interview and decision process. Dumont saw this as an example of inappropriate involvement of committee chairs.

Bockelman noted that Vogel had exceeded her term limits of two three-year appointments so might not have been reappointed even if she had applied in a timely way. Dumont countered that TAC was only created in 2016, and asked why Vogel’s service on related committees (such as the Bicycle Committee) was used against her while Hayden’s was not. 

Bockelman reported that the charge for the Committee allows non-members to serve on sub-committees and that Vogel intends to continue to wrap up her sub-committee work through April. Bockelman conceded that when the chair of a committee is up for reappointment, there can be a conflict of interest if they serve on the interview panel. However, he said, he believes it is essential that someone from the committee be represented in the decision process, and that he doesn’t want to rely solely on input from staff. 

Councilor Brewer pointed out that chairs of committees can be consulted without being part of the interview process, which could obviate the potential conflict of interest.

Dumont emphasized that she did not understand why Hayden was staying but Vogel was designated to leave. She asked Bockelman to clarify whether or not he will continue to ask committee chairs to participate in interviews even if they are applying for reappointment, and he indicated that he would.

Brewer said that although committee members should know when their terms are up, in practice most don’t, and added that there should be a system for notifying people when their terms are about to expire. Bockelman agreed.

Motions
A series of motions were offered to recommend that the Town Council approve the Town Manager’s nominations to the boards bcommissions,and  committees noted below. Details of these nominations can be found at the links below.

Nominations to the Agriculture Commission approved 5-0

Nominations to the Cultural Council approved 5-0

Nominations to the Disability Access Advisory Committee approved 5-0

Nominations to the Human Rights Commission approved 5-0

Nominations to the Munson Library Building Board of Trustees approved
5-0

Nominations to the Transportation Advisory Committee 4-0-1 with Dumont abstaining

OCA Appointment Process Draft Memo
OCA members then discussed a draft memo setting out issues to be addressed in developing a revised appointment process. The entire memo can be read here. Members posed several questions about the process, with the intent of moving towards agreement and coming to a vote at a future meeting. 

Here are some of the issues that were raised and discussed:

  • How extensively should openings for committee positions be described to the public?
  • How public can/should be information in the Community Activity Forms (CAFs), which are used as the application forms for positions on committees? Dumont favors making this information public, as other aspects of the process will probably be public, including interviews. Ross insisted that CAFs are personnel records and therefore protected and confidential. He noted that if OCA is going to consider making CAFs public, then they should discuss how the forms should be changed in order to be appropriate for public disclosure. He suggested that OCA explore other approaches at some other time . Dumont countered that this is precisely the proper time to have a conversation about the CAFs because OCA is talking about changing the appointment process and CAFs are at its center.  Swartz said that the only thing that OCA is talking about keeping private is private information such as age, race, address, and that the intent, as she understands it, is that everything else will be public. (Note: One ongoing, contentious issue is whether the names of candidates should be public. Currently they are not.) Ross said that the CAF does not currently include a disclaimer saying that the information on the form might become public, and that this cannot be changed while appointments are being considered.
  • What constitutes a satisfactory pool of applicants? This is likely to be the sole agenda item for the next OCA meeting. Ross will edit the draft memo to incorporate the gist of today’s discussion. The next OCA meeting will begin with Section 4 in the memo, Selection Guidance—Criteria for a healthy multi-member body. The revised document is slated to be brought for a vote for adoption at OCA’s December 2 meeting. 

Public Comment
Dumont received a letter about making the application process more transparent that was submitted by a constituent, Tracy Zafian and recent TAC appointee,  as a public comment. It was not read aloud at the meeting but entered into the record, as follows:

Dear Outreach, Communications, and Appointments (OCA) committee members, 

I am not able to attend the OCA meeting this morning and stay until the public comment period, so I wanted to write to applaud you for your draft document on the “Process for appointing members to multi-member bodies appointed by the Town Council” and your efforts to make the process more uniform and transparent. 

As someone who has applied to serve on two town committees for which appointments are recommended by the Town Manager and then voted on by the Town Council, I found the process somewhat opaque, including not being sure of the time frame for filling the vacancies on the committees I applied to. I recognize that there are a large number of committees that currently have vacancies. For example, the Oct 15th committee/board vacancy list on the Amherstma.gov web site lists 20 such committees/boards and some of them, I am sure, are a higher priority for filling the membership of than others. If there could be a rough prioritized list and/or general time frame for filling the vacancies of the different boards/committees that could be shared, that might be helpful for potential applicants and the public. Sharing the different steps of the appointment process, as your draft document does, would be helpful as well. 

For each of the two committees I applied to, most recently the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), I completed different Community Activity Form (CAF) which highlighted my interests and relevant experience for those committees.  For the first committee, I submitted a CAF form in March 2019, and was interviewed in May 2019. I was contacted shortly after the interview by the Town Manager and told that as some of applicants had more relevant experience and expertise than I, I was not being recommended to be appointed to that committee. At that time, I told the Town Manager that I understood. We talked about other potential committees that I could serve on, and I indicated a specific interest in serving on the TAC, since it was, I thought, a good fit for my background and interests. I then completed a new CAF for applying to the TAC. I was interviewed for the TAC in early October, and I learned from the Town Manager’s memo to the Town Council and Town Clerk on October 31st that he is recommending my appointment to the TAC for a two-year term. For the two committees I applied to, I sent occasional emails to the Town Manager to check on the status and the timeframe for decisions. If I had a clearer idea of the timeframe involved, I wouldn’t have felt the need to do so.  

I noticed from the minutes of the Residents’ Advisory Committee (RAC)’s last meeting (October 15th), that the RAC similarly to OCA, is also looking at providing more information to committee applicants, including at the interview stage. I applaud these efforts too.  

I am confident that making the appointment process more transparent will help Amherst in attracting diverse, high caliber candidates to serve the community on the Town’s committees and boards. 

Thank you for your service to our town.

Best regards,

Tracy Zafian

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