Tomorrow morning I’ll be presenting at Foothill College on my work as Chair of the Human Services Commission on the Women’s Bill of Rights, San José’s implementation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women. You can see my presentation here, filled with wonderful free stock photos of trans, non-binary, and genderqueer folks from this collection.
Normally, tomorrow would be a day when the Human Services Commission would meet. I would love to meet. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to meet since January because half of our commission seats are unfilled, leaving us with 6 of our 13 seats empty. Those of you familiar with quorum rules know that means we need 100% of our members to attend a hearing to legally to allowed to meet. But every month, at least one commissioner has had a commitment that kept them away, so we have not met.
Below is a description of the process issue we’ve been going through, in the hopes that writing it out will help other commissioners facing the same issue resolve it more quickly. It gets long and wonky and technical and I want to say something about criticizing people vs processes before I get started.
I know the city is understaffed. I’ve worked in state government in two states. City workers are doing their best under difficult circumstances. But there are also some clear technical, process, and communication improvements that could be made to this system and I think the best way to help get them made is articulating them here, since 4 months of quiet advocacy that hasn’t worked.
The Process Issue: As far as I can figure out, the City Clerk’s office closed applications to the Human Services Commission (HSC) on January 3rd and didn’t tell us they were open until March 1. Here’s the timeline as far as I could find out:
- December 2018: City Council does not fill the 4 vacancies on the HSC. The commissioners are asked at our 12/20 meeting to help recruit to fill them. We recruit from our networks.
- 2019: 1/3: the City Clerk’s office stops allowing people to apply to the Human Services Commission. They removed the HSC from the drop-down on the Granicus-run application system.
- 1/3 – Present: the City Manager’s office, through their commission staffer, encouraged the members of the commission to recruit from our personal networks to keep our commission alive. Here’s one such post.
- Mid-Jan: We realize there’s an issue with the application system, don’t know what it is, and our staff secretary from the City Manager’s office reaches out to the Clerk’s office to fix it. They say they are understaffed and it will take about a week. At least 2 people I recruited to apply are unable to do so. I can’t tell them why. We’re still being reminded to recruit for the commission.
- 2/22: It’s the day after our February meeting, which we canceled for lack of quorum and the Clerk’s office re-opens the application. But our staff secretary — and thus the commission — is not told. So we have no idea applications are open.
- 3/1: The City Clerk’s office tells our staff secretary the application is open. But there’s some issues, so the staff secretary requests all recruited applicants reach out to her by email. You can see this language here in this tweet from Councilmember Khamis.
- 3/8: I call every single council’s office with a vacancy plus the Mayor’s office (whose seat is also vacant). Those are: Mayor Liccardo, Vice Major Chappie Jones, Councilmember Lan Diep, Councilmember Devora Davis, Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, Councilmember Johnny Khamis. None of the frontline staff who picked up the phone knew their districts had a vacancy and most had no idea who on their staff handled board and commission appointments. I also made social media images and wrote sample newsletter/social media text to make it as easy as possible for busy staffers to recruit. You can see my image and text in Councilmember Khamis’s tweet.
- 3/19: I hear from our staff secretary we have 9 new applications for the HSC. Which, to me, implies that council offices hadn’t known to recruit for these roles before and when council’s offices reach out, they get responses from their communities.
- April – May: We struggle to get answers about if the applicants have been reviewed by the committee on appointments, whether their conflict of interest review by the City Attorney’s office had been done. We don’t meet either month.
I’m very much hoping we can meet in June. I wish I could tell the Foothill community college students and their families a story tomorrow about government moving quickly to solve a problem tomorrow, but instead we’ll talk about wielding inertia and that the arc of the moral universe does not bend alone; it bends because we bend it.