Florence Council agree upon new committee selection standards

Applications, which are due Feb. 13, will be publicly discussed by full council, chosen by majority council agreement

Feb. 13, 2023 - “My commitment to all of you is, whatever we decide as a group, the majority decides,” new Florence Mayor Rob Ward said during the Jan. 23 meeting of the City Council. 

At issue was how the council chooses applicants to sit on city committees, commissions and agencies — a process which has faced criticism over the years over its lack of transparency.

“I know there’s been some concerns about how we appoint people in the past. We’re not living in the past, we’re moving forward,” said Ward. 

The council voted unanimously to have public discussions on all city committees, as well as publicly interviewing candidates for certain commissions and agencies including the Florence Urban Renewal Agency (FURA). 

“I think that process is very fair,” Councilor Sally Wantz said of the agreed upon changes. 

Currently, there is one open, at-large position on FURA, as well as open positions on the city’s Transportation Committee (TC) and Citizen Budget Committee (CBC). While the application window has been open for weeks, so far only a handful of applications have been received for the open seats, with the application window closing this Monday (Feb.13.) 

Though the new changes have not been codified, they could alleviate past concerns of the process, encourage people to volunteer and participate with City governance more, and create clarity on how people are selected. 

The conversation began with City Recorder Lindsey White asking the council to review and consider approval of the City committee, commission and board recruitment process, as well as the method and matter of the Council’s review of applicants and recommendations to the mayor. 

“The current appointment process in place gives the authority to the mayor to make all appointments to the City's committees and commissions,” White said, explaining the current process set forth in Florence City code.

While code does specifically direct the mayor to “solicit recommendations from councilors concerning potential appointees” and “confer with the council” on appointments, the code is vague on how these conversations should occur. While it suggests discussions be done in an open meeting, it also allows for private, one-on-one deliberations that can be done in a variety of ways — including non-recorded phone conversations and personal email, both of which are not required to become public record.

The code also does not require the mayor to adhere to recommendations of other councilors, allowing the mayor final authority on who sits on city committees.  

Proponents of the code have argued it allows for a more streamlined and swift process that can make appointments without the burden of a drawn out interview process.  

Critics argue the code opens the door for stacking committees with political appointees, as well as ignoring qualified candidates that council members and committee leadership feel would benefit the committees.

The process itself can often be opaque, diminishing the ability of the public to have input on selections.  

However, “Section D of this code states that the council may direct a different appointed process to be followed in filling a position on a particular board, committee or commission” White said, leading to the discussion by the council. 

Ward began by sharing his vision of choosing applicants, which would include the council publicly discussing the applicants as a group, “not just feeding information to me personally, as the mayor.” 

The council would then come to a consensus as to who they would pick for the committee appointments. 

“We would probably do that in a work session and then in a regular council meeting we would make those appointments. But it would be based on the recommendations from all of you after we’ve had a chance to talk about it,” said Ward. 

While Ward said he hoped that the choices made would be unanimous, there would be times where there would be differences of opinion. However, he would ultimately abide by the majority decision of the council.

As for councilor’s interviewing applicants for the positions, Ward stated that he felt it would be difficult to interview all applicants for all committees. 

“I don’t want to get bogged down interviewing 50 people for 50 different positions, unless we really feel it’s necessary,” he said.

Committees such the CBC, which serves as the filial planning board for the City, and the TC, would rely on the council reviewing written applications. Currently the CBC has one opening, while the TC has a total of six openings. White reported TC did not have enough members currently to hold a quorum. 

But for certain committees, Ward felt it was necessary for applicants to go through a more robust application process. 

“I really feel the Planning Commission is probably one of the key positions in our city, other than the City Council,” said Ward. “I really think that we as a council should take the time to interview the people that apply.”

The commission, which makes decisions on all matters concerning planning and land use, does not currently have any open positions. However, Councilor Wantz asked if the Florence Urban Renewal Agency (FURA) — which has approved projects like the Wyndham Microtel on Quince Street and the Revision Florence improvement project and currently has one vacant seat — should also be considered for an interview process. 

“What I would support totally is to do a complete interview of the five of us for any applicants for Fura,” Wantz said. 

City Manager Erin Reynolds added that “We would probably see Urban Renewal in integral, or just as important of a position as the Planning Commission.”

The Council agreed that both FURA and the Planning Commission should have applicants interviewed by the council. 

Reynolds stressed that all interviews will be public, but that the City has administered these types of interviews before. 

“Typically, you’ll have a standard list of questions to ask folks,” she said, stating staff could work up a list of possible questions. “You could tell us ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ these are the questions you want to be asking. Thankfully, you have a series of work sessions ahead of you where you can give us some of this direction.”

As for the applications themselves, Councilor Jo Beaudreau questioned whether or not they were too generic. 

“I’ve seen applicants put one sentence down and get selected,” she said. “I’m not going into the past, but more direct questions of what [applicants] can offer the city and its mission would be very beneficial for us to be able to make those selections.”

Reynolds agreed that applications were basic, exhibiting a copy of the FURA application. Only two open questions are included: 

  • Give a brief statement explaining why you desire to be a member of [FURA], and 
  • What is your occupation? 

The rest of the questions focus on whether or not applicants understand the time commitment required and asking yes/no questions such as, “Can you see any potential conflicts of interest…”

While the application does invite potential applicants to look further into the committees they are applying for, it does not ask specific questions related to qualifications, specific goals for the committee, etc. 

“I’m not overly concerned about the application format here because we’re going to talk to them, and they’ll answer your questions,”  Ward said regarding the FURA application. However, committees like TC and CBC would not have a set interview process, and decisions would have to be based on the applications. 

While the current applications have already been circulating for some time, the city did say it could revisit the applications before the next round of submissions. 

The entire council, which included Ward, Wantz, Beaudreau and Councilors Robert Carp and Bill Meyer, voted unanimously to have the council to speak together in public about their recommendations, that the Mayor would adhere to the majority opinion of the council on committee choices, and that FURA applicants would go through an interview process with the council. 

In closing, Meyer stated that he appreciated the rearrangements of the process. 

“I think it’s beneficial for this group, and I think it was needed to do some tune up on how we proceed on these. So I appreciate your effort in this area,” he said. 

Applications, which are due Feb. 13, can be found online at https://www.ci.florence.or.us/boardsandcommissions/board-committee-and-commission-recruitment

All City Council meetings and work sessions are open to the public to attend, and video of each meeting is posted online on the City’s calendar, which can be found at https://www.ci.florence.or.us/calendar

Future meetings can also be found through the calendar link, which are updated with meeting agendas.