Monday, December 19, 2011

BIG PURGE: Columbia city managers move to abolish citizen commissions

Former commissioners condemn report seeking widespread elimination of city boards and commissions 

COLUMBIA, 12/19/11  (Beat Byte) --  A report from senior Columbia city staffers that recommends eliminating over a dozen citizen boards and commissions has some former and current commission members crying foul, including over the proposal's holiday timing and shaky details.

Set for City Council presentation tonight, just six days before Christmas, the 6-page report cites a July 9, 2009 City Council meeting that, according to city records, never occurred.   It also says City Council members directed senior staffers to prepare the recommendations in April, May, and July 2010.  But agendas from public meetings during those months show no indication of the issue. 

On the chopping block, either now or in the near future:  GetAbout Columbia, the Downtown Leadership Council (DLC), the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission (BPC), the Internet Citizens Advisory Group, the Storm Water Advisory Commission, the Substance Abuse Advisory Commission, the Energy and Environment Commission, the Water and Light Advisory Board, and the Boards of Plumbing, Electrical, and Mechanical  Examiners.    

 
New groups would replace some old groups.  A new Transportation Advisory Commission, for instance, would take over for GetAbout, BPC, and the Public Transportation Advisory Commission.  The Building Construction Codes Commission would take over plumbing, electrical, and mechanical oversight, a move the report says may generate "concerns."    

"This is bad," said former Downtown Leadership Council (DLC) chairman and urban planning expert Randy Gray, about that group's proposed elimination and replacement by the newly-created Community Improvement District, or CID.   "The CID only represents property owners, as opposed to the DLC's broad-based, big picture, community planning process." 

A downtown-area quasi-governing body led by an independent board of directors, the CID can levy taxes with voter approval and was behind the recent move to impose a downtown sales tax.  The DLC, on the other hand, has no governing powers, designed instead to guide planning in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods, with representatives from a broad swath of the community. 

"Ill advised" is how former Planning and Zoning Commissioner Tracy Greever-Rice, Ph.D. characterized the DLC elimination proposal.  "Also note the timing of this, right after the end of the semester, when a lot of folks are out of town," added Greever-Rice, who has also served on the Visioning and Energy-Environment Commissions.  "Seems like this [holiday timing] happened a couple of years ago, around the eminent domain issue downtown, too."  

The staff report meanwhile recommends CID members consider ways to "include neighborhoods and other groups represented by the DLC."  But Gray finds that proposition dubious.  "It may be impossible to add 4-5 DLC members to the CID board," he said.  "State statutes determine the CID's existence, and its members must adhere to their enabling legislation." 

The staff report is decidedly unenthusiastic about a list of new citizen commissions recommended by the Columbia Visioning Commission.  Of seven suggested commissions, the report recommends creation of only two, one of which -- a Transportation Advisory Commission -- would absorb three existing commissions. 

Gray is left with another question that will undoubtedly mirror concerns of people interested in the nearly 20 boards and commissions slated for shake up.   "Does it make sense to give a downtown planning role to an independent CID that only answers to its own board?" Gray asked. "The City would lose all control." 

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