WHY A LOCAL APPOINTMENTS LIST IS IMPORTANT
Twentynine Palms was MIA on the state mandate until... A shaggy dog story.
Have you ever wondered about the different commissions and committees appointed by City Council and why it’s so difficult to keep them all straight? Even the most central repository of this information, the sign up page for “E-Updates” fails to list all City committees and commissions. The Public Arts Advisory Committee or PAAC (full disclosure, I am the current Chair) was absent on that page until I insisted it be added in October and the General Plan Committee is still MIA. Some of the committees on the E-Update list are no longer active. Many committees are on the City website but they are difficult to find and the information is sometimes incomplete or inaccurate.
All of this is why California passed a state mandate in 2017 requiring cities to post a yearly list of all appointed committees and commissions by December 31, a “Local Appointments List”. The law, which is sometimes referred to as the Maddy Act, is extremely clear on why such a list is needed:
The Legislature further finds and declares that the general public of this state has traditionally been denied access to information regarding vacancies which occur on such boards, commissions, and committees, thereby denying most citizens and interest groups the opportunity to nominate for consideration by the respective appointive powers persons whose particular strengths, backgrounds, experience, perspective, and talents might contribute significantly to efficient and representative policy development and administration in local government.
The law goes on to state:
The Legislature further finds and declares that all citizens of the state, regardless of their place of residence should have equal access to specific and current information about the many local regulating and advisory boards, commissions, and committees and equal opportunity to be informed of vacancies which shall occur thereon, so that they may pursue the opportunity to participate in and contribute to the operations of local government by serving on such boards, commissions, and committees.
Desert Trumpet has been trying to assemble a list of Twentynine Palms City commissions and committees since the Fall but it was an impossible task. We were unaware that such a list was actually state mandated! I came across the mandate while trying to ascertain the first appointment dates of the current Planning Commissioners as the City website only lists the date of their last appointment. Since they are reappointed every four years, the date of first appointment is needed to report on how long a Planning Commissioner has served.
When I emailed the City Manager to ask about existence of our Local Appointments List, the City Clerk replied, “We do produce that list. It is being worked on as we speak. It will go out to the appropriate contact list when we have it ready.”
While I was glad to hear it was being worked on, the method of distribution was odd as the law also specifies that it should be public:
The Local Appointments List shall be made available to members of the public for a reasonable fee which shall not exceed actual cost. The legislative body shall either post a copy of the list on its Internet Web site or designate the public library with the largest service population within its jurisdiction to receive a copy of the list.
Since the 2022 list wasn’t yet available, I requested a copy of the 2021 list. The City Clerk then informed me that I needed to fill out a Public Information Request1 to receive it, against what is stated in the law. I also emailed the Clerk a list of urls from cities which had posted lists to their websites. A great example is the 2022 list from San Bernardino which I found as a pdf.
The City Clerk then replied that Twentynine Palms was not required to produce a Local Appointments List, quoting from unrelated code and adding that “This has been confirmed by two City Attorneys.” At that point I sent her the correct code (for the third time), cc-d the City Attorney and asked if the City would be able to comply by the end of the year.
Three days later I received an email from the City Manager that the list was posted, no url supplied. I found it linked on the front page of the City website. It was a start but was still missing required information.
Per the law here’s what it should contain:
(a) A list of all appointive terms which will expire during the next calendar year, with the name of the incumbent appointee, the date of appointment, the date the term expires, and the necessary qualifications for the position.
(b) A list of all boards, commissions, and committees whose members serve at the pleasure of the legislative body, and the necessary qualifications for each position.
At the time it was published on December 23, there was no information on the terms served by members of the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) or the PAAC or how long they had been on the Boards / Committees. I pointed this out to the City Manager who revealed that they were still working on bringing some Boards / Committees into compliance such as the TBID and the PAAC. The PAAC was already working on this and included terms of office in its revised mission passed December 21 and which comes before Council for approval on February 14. Terms were not brought up when the TBID was reauthorized over the summer. The TBID is the only City commission or committee that lacks terms of office.
So…asking for the Local Appointment List revealed that members of the TBID, who manage a $285,000 budget, do not currently have terms of office, making them virtually unaccountable for how they choose to spend those funds. The length of time each member has served has since been added to the online Local Appointments List. Regarding terms of office for the TBID, the City Manager had indicated that the TBID committee members are aware that a revised ordinance with terms will be brought before Council.
As of this publication date, the General Plan Committee is missing from the list. Also missing is the date of first appointment for the Planning Commission and the PAAC; the dates members of City Council were first elected; the dates the terms for the PAAC and TBID expire, and qualifications for most of the positions listed.
Twentynine Palms is still a young city, not even 40 years old, so of course things fall through the cracks. I’m happy that this very shaggy dog of a story resulted in the start of better transparency on this very important aspect of City business. Now it’s up to Twentynine Palms residents to follow up and ensure that we are provided with a complete and accurate Local Appointments List every year so that we are better informed about the opportunities available for serving our City.
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The right to public records was established by the Public Records Act in 1968. At a local level requests are made to the City Clerk. Here’s further information on the Act:
California Public Records Act
The California Public Records Act is a series of laws meant to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in California. In December of 2011, a Superior Court judge ruled that the California Assembly must also disclose budget records of individual lawmakers, after some California newspapers filed a lawsuit accusing legislators of flouting the state’s open records laws.
Public records in the California Public Records Act are defined as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” There is a separate category of “purely personal information” that, although it may be in the custody of a government agency, does not fall under the act. Statute 6255 states a catch all exemption, “The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.”
Anyone can request public documents in California, and a purpose does not have to be stated. The California Public Records Act does not regulate the use of records obtained from public agencies. One should allow 10 days for an agency to comply with a records request.
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