So, you wanna serve your city?

In the comments section of my post about the OHA Board appointments (a lively discussion that I tragically never found time to engage in, btw. I am still hoping to get something up about the discussion of the appointments at the City Council soon.) there were a number of questions about how one gets appointed to various city boards.

Here’s the deal. The City puts out an annual list of anticipated vacancies (PDF). If you’re interested in serving on something, download it and page through. What you’ll find will likely depress you. Most Boards are lousy with vacant seats. It’s sad, really. On the plus side, it means that there are many, many opportunities for you to contribute to Oakland.

The vast majority of Boards and Commissions are simply advisory – that means that unlike the Planning Commission, or the Housing Authority Board, or the Port Board, they have no real power. Everything you say could just get completely ignored by everyone all the time. On the other hand, you could potentially have an impact on the City’s priorities or activities in whatever sphere you choose to serve. If nothing else, you’ll learn a whole lot about one specific subject and might even gain some newfound respect for the genuinely tough job the City has to do.

If, after paging through the list, you find something you think you would like to serve on, the next step is to fill out an application (PDF). Then you send your application, your resume, and a letter of interest to the Mayor’s Boards and Commissions staff person (yes, that is an actual job). The details are all in the application (PDF). I’d encourage anyone who does submit something to follow up with a phone call or e-mail a week or so later, since, in my experience, the office can have a tendency to be…um…unresponsive.

It’s all pretty simple. So now onto the main reason I’m writing about this. Applications are currently being accepted for a super duper important seat. You think Oakland’s government is so corrupt? Well, if you want to do something about it, maybe you should consider joining the Public Ethics Commission.

This is not a position where you sit around bloviating about how the Council is all in the pocket of developers. Public Ethics Commissioners hear complaints filed by citizens about violations of Oakland’s numerous transparency and good government rules and decide what to do about them. They oversee compliance with and enforcement of the Oakland Campaign Reform Act, the City of Oakland Code of Ethics, conflict of interest regulations, lobbyist registration, the Sunshine Ordinance, and so on. You can read all about their duties here.

And what’s it take to do the job? Well, you have to live in Oakland and be registered to vote. You can’t work for the City (now, or for a year after your three-year term expires). You can’t be running for any office. And you can’t have any involvement in any Oakland political campaign (again, now or for a year after you leave your seat) – that means no donations, no precinct walking, no endorsements, no phone banking, no signs in your yard, nothing. You won’t be allowed to have an opinion on the next Mayoral race or whatever new tax the City will inevitably try to push on you next cycle. You have to be totally apolitical, interested in nothing but good, clean government.

If you think you can handle all that, head over to the Commission website and read some more. Check out some of the recent agendas to get a better feel for what meetings are like. If you have questions, call the number there and talk to the Public Ethics staff – they’ve always been really nice and helpful for me. And if you’re still interested, fill out an application (PDF) and turn it in. This application is for a seat appointed by the current Commissioners, not the Mayor. The deadline to apply is October 31st.

It’s real work and it doesn’t pay anything. And you give up a lot to do it. But I know I have tons of wonderful, community-minded readers who genuinely just want Oakland to be a better (and better run) city, and I hope that at least a one or two of you will consider tossing your names in the ring.

7 thoughts on “So, you wanna serve your city?

  1. ConcernedOakFF

    PLEASE someone that has a REAL sense of Ethics apply for this position. From where I sit on the inside, many unethical things are going on.

    There needs to be a strong presence on this board.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    I doubt it. What kind of power do you think they should have? I think it’s mostly because people don’t know about them. Community advisory boards play an important role in a well-functioning city.

  3. das88

    I think you might be misinterpreting the list of vacancies document. I believe it is not indicating current vacancies but rather “anticipated vacancies.” Most of these board positions seem to be appointed for 1 to 3 years. The clerk knows when terms are expiring so they make a list of upcoming vacancies. That does not mean these seats are currently vacant or will be vacant, just that people can apply for them.

    Looking over more of the clerk’s webpages, I also got the impression that many of these vacancies get filled by the same members who had them before. In other words, vacancies get filled by re-appointing the exact same person.

    Now I don’t know if any of this is actually true. In fact, I suspect many of the less prominent boards go without citizen volunteer advisers. I am just saying that the referenced document is not indicative of vacancies but rather of terms ending.

  4. V Smoothe Post author

    das88, if you page through the list, you’ll see two different things. Where there is a name and an expiration date, that’s a filled seat that’s going to expire within the year. Sometimes these people are reappointed, although most Boards have a limit to how many consecutive terms you can serve. The other thing you’ll see, on almost every page, is an entry that just says “vacant.” This means that the seat is currently empty. There are far more of these straight up vacancies than there are expiring seats.

  5. Patrick

    OK, V, but ours is not a “well-functioning city”. And that is my point. If our community advisory boards worked, don’t you think they would be fully staffed? I am just wondering if the Mayor and the Council would give the advisory boards, and their advice, the same sort of withering side glances we all get at Council meetings.

  6. das88

    ok, we seem to agree:

    1) expiring seats are not currently vacant
    2) seats with multi-year terms are not currently vacant

    That leaves the question of the seats listed as vacant in the referenced PDF document. My contention is that the majority of these seats get filled. I took a look at the first three commissions/boards listed in the document and found

    Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board
    PDF says
    Expiring: 2
    Vacant: 2

    Looking at their Membership Roster
    Current Members: 6
    Total Memberships Possible: not shown

    ===========================================

    Library Advisory Commission

    PDF Says
    Expiring 2
    Vacant 9!!!!

    Website says
    Current Members 11
    Total Members Possible 15

    ============================================

    Measure Z Cannabis

    PDF Says
    Expiring 1
    Vacant 2

    Website Says
    Current Members 10
    Total Possible 11

    All of these commissions seem to have sufficient community representation. It is not nearly as bad as you contend the PDF makes it. While it would be nice for the Library commission not have 4 open seats, I am guessing the current 11 members are bringing in a wide variety of viewpoints.

    I disagree with V. Smoothe and Patrick that these boards and commissions do not have adequate community input. While sure it could be better, I think Oakland has a great tradition of community activism. This extends past city government to neighborhood associations and regional organizations.

    While V. Smoothe gets to set the agenda and to a large the viewpoint on her blog, I am little disheartened that it seems to be taking an increasing half-full approach. This attitude that only “a few of us weirdos are interested in city government” easily becomes self-fulfilling. If elected, appointed, and civil officials don’t think anyone cares what they do, they will not be responsive to the people.