City to move forward with Diversity Commission, Tree Board staffing for 2015

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The City of Edmonds will move ahead to hire consultants to provide staffing support for the newly formed Diversity Commission and the already-operating Citizens Tree Board, but future staffing for those and other city boards and commissions will need to be determined as part of the 2016 city budget process.

That’s the takeaway following a lengthy discussion during the Tuesday, Aug. 3 Edmonds City Council meeting regarding how to handle the costs associated with the city’s 18 boards and commissions.

A  task force of city councilmembers — Joan Bloom, Diane Buckshnis and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas — prepared a report with their initial recommendations, and worked with city staff to compile a summary of all the existing boards/commissions/committees, including how many staff are allocated to support each group, how many hours staff spends monthly and the average monthly cost of that staff time. The report also indicated whether the committees were required by city code and how and if minutes or notes were taken. You can see that time summary here.

Among the issues addressed by the task force report were the possible combining of committees to save staff resources — two examples include folding the Highway 99 task force into the Citizens Economic Development Commission (EDC) and combining the Parking Committee with the Transportation Committee. The task force report also suggested that costs could be offset by holding meetings in locations that don’t require evening door monitors and limiting the requirement of verbatim minutes to certain boards — Architectural Design Board, EDC, Tree Board and Planning Board — and providing summary minutes for others.

On Tuesday, City Development Director Shane Hope made a presentation to the council about the issue, including Mayor Dave Earling’s proposal for addressing costs associated with boards and commissions. Hope noted that another cost incurred is that all board and commission members are required, for public disclosure purposes, to have city email accounts (106 accounts total). The initial software licensing cost for those is about $25,000 and then $5,800 per year for maintenance (total for the same accounts).

Hope also outlined Mayor Dave Earling’s recommendations for staffing boards and commissions, which included:

1. Consider the full cost of appointed boards, commissions, etc. (staff hours, room expenses, internet/technology, etc.); recall that staff hours are not “free”; they are simply taken from something else.
2. Make sure that the charter or authority of each codified board/commission is up-to-date and clear for what is expected. (Roles that are written very broadly may go beyond the scope of the Council’s actual intent and can lead to unrealistic expectations.)
3. Specifically:
(a) De-formalize or disband the Library Board, since library operations are now under the Library District. That means City staff would not attend.
(b) Do not have an ongoing transportation or parking committee. Organize ad hoc committees when necessary, for example, when a new transportation plan is being developed or a special issue needs research/input.
(c)  Recognize that the Highway 99 Task Force, which has been meeting for more than 10 years, is not necessary at this point. However, broad input will be sought from Highway 99 area residents and businesses with the upcoming Highway 99 subarea plan.
(d) Provide several thousand dollars for the remainder of this year for the Diversity Commission and Tree Board to each have consultant help for specific purposes, with some oversight of the consultants from City staff (namely Patrick Doherty for Diversity and, for the Tree Board, oversight from the Parks Director, Development Services Director, or Public Works Director—depending on whether the Tree Board’s work over the next year or so will be focused on city parks, city right of way, private property, or some combination.
(e) Continue other boards and commission in existence now but recognize that if more is expected of them, additional staffing will be needed too.
(f) Whenever possible, use facilities that are open after regular business hours (including the Frances Anderson Center) for board/commission meetings held outside of regular business hours (so that the public can enter without the cost of a special door monitor).

As a result of that discussion, the council agreed to have staff move forward with contracting services (through consultants) to provide limited support for the diversity commission and tree board. Those staffing costs “amount to a few thousand dollars for the remainder of 2015,” Hope said, and there is likely to be enough money in the existing 2015 budget to cover them.

City Councilmember Tom Mesaros stressed the importance of the council — in the future — to consider the financial implications of any boards or commissions before the council decides to form them. “There are some things we may need to say no to,” Mesaros said.

Earling said that staff would “plug in a number” for the cost of funding boards and commissions as part of the 2016 budget, which the council will begin considering in October. “You may not like the number,” Earling said, adding that his concern is always how increasing the costs for board and commission staffing will take city employees away from other important tasks.

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