Thoughts on Citizen Engagement 

Note: CAC is the existing Citizens Advisory Council. CEC is the new proposed Citizens Engagement Council.  CEB is the new propose Community Engagement Board.

According to the task force recommendations, “The complete system of CECs is intended to be a ‘second generation’ of the CAC system in place currently.”

The new CECs will serve at the pleasure of Council – not citizens. A proposed Community Engagement Board (to be appointed by Council) will act as a body of overseers. Rather than a citizen driven organization, the recommendations state, “The CEB will recommend recognition of the CECs by City Council when they meet the standards and guidelines developed by the CEB.”

In short, this philosophy about citizen engagement is top down, Council directed oversight rather than grassroots, bottom up, citizen led and driven. We can innovate a citizen led approach. But, innovating a citizen led approach is not what is recommended and not what is happening.

Having helped turn out 600 people at one CAC meeting and 300 at another, and orchestrated an election to replace the previous Mayor Pro Tem, I think I know something about engaging citizens.  

The issues with CACs are not so serious that we require a whole new structure. Rather the CACs could use help better communicating with citizens and hosting effective meetings by providing them some resources and training. Importantly, we do not need a permanent board to accomplish this.

Many CACs have, in fact, taken steps in the past year to improve communications. These steps include better outreach through emailings, display of signs in neighborhoods announcing meetings, holding more regular and, therefore, predictable meetings, and spreading the word through other organizations such as HOAs. Some are also live streaming meetings for those who are unable to attend and can watch at their convenience. I, personally, have noticed an increase in attendance at CAC meetings and a much more engaged public.

Sadly, neither the task force nor some on Council knows this because they didn’t and do not attend CAC meetings. Indeed, during our City Council retreat it was proposed that the recently adopted code of conduct be amended to prohibit Council members from attending CAC meetings.

When the task force was formed, I submitted the names of five people to be on the task force. It was communicated to me by the Mayor that those five were not acceptable specifically because they were regularly involved with their CAC. 

I argued that these people would bring insights to the task force precisely because they have been involved in citizen engagement. However, the names were vetoed. I finally was able to submit the name of someone with no CAC involvement.

In retrospect, I should have stuck to my position. However, I relented when a compromise was reached that allowed Carole Meyre, Chair of the RCAC, to participate. Sadly, Council did not hear from her to understand her reasons for voting against the recommendations.