And, unfortunately, the City Council’s usual practices help it stay that way.
My remarks at the January 19, 2021 Fishers City Council meeting:
“I have concerns about this year’s Council appointments to City Boards & Commissions.
According to the City of Fishers website, “Fishers’ boards and commissions are a great way for citizens to get involved in their local community. These groups provide input and direction for the (city) council on decisions that can impact Fishers for years to come. This participation from our residents is essential to maintaining our status as one of this country’s best places to live.”
In practice, however, an extremely unrepresentative group of people have the opportunity to participate on boards and commissions, while other groups within the community are routinely excluded. The 95 available seats on boards and commissions include very few people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and persons with disabilities. With recent information available from the City, I have determined that overall:
- 80% of the current Board and Commission appointees are white men
- Less than 20% of appointees are women
- There is a total of three people of color on all 24 boards and commissions
- Zero appointees were confirmed as members of the LGBTQ community or a person with a disability
- Eight people sit on more than one board or commission, taking up 20% of the total seats
- One appointee who serves on both the Police Merit Commission and Fire Merit Commission as a legally required Democratic representative for political balance, does not actually qualify as a Democrat
Furthermore, the current City Council majority’s practice for making board and commission appointments is not transparent. Currently, no clear process for fairly scrutinizing Council appointments is followed. This has enabled a lack of diversity and resulted in boards and commissions that are grossly unrepresentative of our community.
Currently, as a practice:
- Incumbent appointees keep their seats for as long as they want to hold them, despite officially serving set terms. This is a problem because it maintains exclusivity and prevents more diverse voices from participating in city government
- Citizens can indeed apply to serve, and the online application is always accessible online and open to the public. But my question is – Did the City Council majority review any of these applications prior to finalizing their 2021 appointments?
I’ve requested to see these applications, I just received them today for the first time. There are 47 of them! I have not received an acknowledgement that they have been reviewed by the Council majority. If appointments are made without receiving and reviewing applications, I think that is a serious fairness and transparency issue
- The City does not publicly recruit residents to apply for boards and commissions when there are vacancies. Public calls for applications are vital
- Diversity and inclusion are not considered
- Conflicts of interest are not considered
- Lastly, Minority members of the Council have been prohibited from participating in the selection process. It is certainly the prerogative of the majority to slate appointments. But it is inappropriate for the Minority members of the Council to receive access to the slate less than 24 hours before the vote
I strongly suggest five practical recommendations to implement a thoughtful and transparent process
- A formal, complete audit of all the board and commission appointments to identify overall composition and representation. This includes reviewing gender identity, race, religious beliefs, political party requirement adherence, number of terms served, number of boards serving on, and conflict of interest declarations. This data must be compiled for the Council’s future reference.
- Have city social media channels immediately deploy a call-out to Fishers residents, inviting interested citizens to apply to serve on City board and commissions, using the existing online form. This call-out should also explicitly welcome people of color, people with disabilities, women, and members of the LGBTQ community to apply.
- Perform a complete pull of all applications that have been received in the past two years. Current appointees whose terms are up must reapply and be reviewed against all applicants if they wish to serve additional terms.
- Form a nominating committee to review applications and determine a slate of appointees for Council consideration and vote at the February meeting. The majority caucus will select two members and the minority caucus will select one member to serve on this nominating committee.
- Prepare an agenda item for the February meeting that codifies these policies so that they are followed in coming years.
Now, Madam President, I am making the following motion:
Form a nominating committee of 3 council members to solicit and review applications for the 2021 open Board & Commission seats.
The majority caucus will select two members and the minority caucus will select one member to serve on this nominating committee.
This committee will determine a slate of appointees for Council consideration at the February city council meeting.”
This motion was voted down by the City Council majority with out discussion or comment.
I understand that there will be a Council Retreat this year and I have been assured by Council leadership that this issue can be discussed at that time for 2022 appointments.