For Immediate Public Release
March 10, 2016
Saint Paul STRONG
Spokesperson, Saint Paul STRONG
Citizen Engagement in Saint Paul: What, where, and when are the opportunities? What is the public process for appointments?
The good news is that Saint Paul invites citizens to serve on a variety of committees, boards, and commissions. The bad news is that the information about these opportunities is inconsistent and confusing and the appointment process lacks openness, transparency, and accountability.
“The City of Saint Paul has over 30 boards and commissions to which the Mayor and the City Council appoint members. These boards and commissions cover a wide range of topics and appeal to a variety of interests, from public safety, education, and housing to economic development. The Mayor and City Council rely on committees, boards and commissions for thoughtful advice to create policies and develop programs.”
In other words, these boards and commissions play important roles in decision making at city hall.
There appear to be many opportunities for Saint Paul residents to serve on committees, boards, and commissions.
But what happens when the process for these appointments isn't open, transparent, and accountable? Where is the information about the process for advancing applicants to the City Council for approval? What happens when the information about these committees, boards, and commissions is contradictory and hard to understand? What happens when these committees, boards, and commissions tend to have the same people serving on them year after year with no term limits?
Some folks received the following press release last week:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 4, 2016
CONTACT: Ashley Aram
* * * ADVISORY ADVISORY ADVISORY * * *
Mayor seeks applicants to serve on city committees, boards, commissions
Applications due by April 17, 2016
SAINT PAUL – Mayor Chris Coleman today is seeking applications from individuals to serve on the various committees, boards and commissions at the City of Saint Paul. The city has dozens of committees that cover a wide range of topics and appeal to a variety of interests. The Mayor and City Council rely on the input of these groups for program development and policy creation.
“The city’s committees, boards and commissions play a crucial role in ensuring the best possible outcomes for Saint Paul,” said Mayor Coleman. “Because of this, we are committed to appointing qualified and diverse candidates to serve the community in these positions.”
Current and upcoming openings include opportunities on the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Saint Paul Planning Commission, the Neighborhood STAR Program, and others. For a full list of openings, click here.
Applications will be evaluated as they are received, so those who are interested are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Applications must be submitted by April 17, 2016, to be assured of full consideration by the appointing authority. Appointing authorities may choose to review applications received after April 17, 2016.
But if you weren't lucky enough to receive the press release, good luck finding it anywhere on the city website: https://www.stpaul.gov/news-room
Interested in applying to be on the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA)?
Here is the basic info on the city website:
9 members total: 6 regular members, 2 alternates, One Planning Commission Representative
Vacancies: One vacancy, an alternate position. APPLY TODAY!
Compare that with this info. about the current BZA members that was available on the city website up until this week:
Only 7 members listed out of 9.
5 out of 7 members terms have expired.
The tenures of the listed members are 29, 21,16, 12 (2 members), 10, and 3 years.
This link that contained the above information is no longer available on the website:
Then take a look at the information on the BZA online application:
https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/mayors-office/committees-boards-and-commissions/boards-and-commissions-listing-and Click on “Board of Zoning Appeals”
“The seven member Board is comprised of private citizens who live in Saint Paul.”
“3 CURRENT VACANCIES, 0 TERMS EXPIRED, 0 TERMS ENDING SOON”
Size: 9 members
Then click on “Member Roster” for more information:
6 BZA members listed. 4 out of 6 members' terms expired in January.
So, according to the city's newly launched website, it seems that there are either 6, 7, or 9 members on the BZA. Currently, there are 1 or 3 vacancies. 4 out of 6 or 5 out of 7 members terms expired in January 2016 or 0 terms have expired or are ending soon. 6 out of 7 BZA members have served 10 or more years, although that information has been recently removed from the website.
And the application deadline is April 17, 2016. However, the BZA agenda for March 14th includes:
II. SWEARING IN OF NEW BOARDMEMBERS
Who are the new BZA board members and when were they appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council?
Interested in applying to be on the Saint Paul Planning Commission? Here is the information on the online application: 3 CURRENT VACANCIES, 5 TERMS EXPIRED, 0 TERMS ENDING SOON
Click on “Planning Commission” and then “Member Roster” and you will see that 1 Planning Commission member's term expired in Jan. 2015 and 4 Planning Commission members' terms expired earlier this year. In addition, there are only 17 Planning Commission members listed out of 21 total members.
So, according to the city's newly launched website, it seems that there are 3 vacancies on the Planning Commission, 5 terms expired, and there are 17 – 21 Planning Commission members.
Can this public information on the city website be any more daunting and confusing just for the BZA and the Planning Commission? We wonder about the other committees, boards, and commissions, but who has the time to sort through all of the contradictory information?
The BZA and the Planning Commission play very important roles in our neighborhoods. In particular, the BZA makes decisions on minor and major zoning variance requests. In Ward 3, where new residential design standards took effect last September, many residents are disturbed by the way that variances are being handed out like candy. In response to those accusations, BZA members state that the design standards are burdensome and challenging to enforce.
So our current, very experienced BZA members are not able to do their jobs in Ward 3? It seems like there is no better time to bring other highly qualified citizens to serve on the BZA. And exactly how and when does that happen? After April 17th or have the appointments already been made?
Are you confused like we are?
Saint Paul STRONG calls on Mayor Coleman and City Council members to address these issues before the next round of appointments.....in April?