Unlike other commissions and boards, members of the Planning Commission do not have to live in certain districts in order to be appointed by City Council. This question of geographic diversity divided Council members Thursday with a 7-4 vote that appointed and reappointed six members to the Planning Commission.
Most commission members live on the Northside, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) pointed out before asking Council to delay the vote for 60 days to allow time to find a way to more evenly distribute the membership.
“What does it truly hurt to take a little bit more time to be more deliberate?” Treviño asked.
Council members Rey Saldaña (D4), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Ron Nirenberg (D8) joined Treviño and voted against the appointments.
While he didn’t question their backgrounds or qualifications, Saldaña said it would be nice to have at least one of the nine members of the commission hail from south of Highway 90. Gonzales pointed out the need for more female representation across most public commissions and boards.
New members Kacy Cigarroa, Christopher Garcia, June Kachtik, and Andrew M. Ozuna will serve with along with reappointed member George Peck until Oct. 6, 2018 and newcomer Casey Whittington was appointed to step into an unexpired term until Oct. 6, 2017.
Changing the way the commission is formed would mean amending the City Charter, which can’t be altered until after the May 2017 City election.
“Might as well get started now,” Treviño said.
But delaying or changing the appointments after the new members had gone through the established process, Mayor Ivy Taylor said, would be “disrespectful” and “it’s not fair to pull the rug out from under them and start over.”
Taylor, who served on the Planning Commission before her tenure as councilwoman for District 2, agrees that the existing protocol for selecting members could be improved.
“Geographic diversity is not the only measure of diversity,” Taylor said. The Planning Commission might have missed out on an “educated planner who happens to be a minority female” like Taylor if the commission was appointed according to district. At the time, she lived in District 10.
Next year, four more members of the commission will need to be replaced, Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) reminded the Council, representing an opportunity for the Governance Committee to be more mindful of applicant residence during the selection process.
Councilman Ray Lopez (D6) suggested that more ex-officio members could be added or altered on the commission to help balance out the geographic disparity. The Governance Committee will take up that and Treviño’s suggestion to change the composition of the Planning Commission next week.
The Planning Commission was established in the 1970s when, Lopez said, planning was “an afterthought” to City governance. But planning and development is “all we talk about now.”
The commission is responsible for advising City Council on the adoption of and amendments to master plans and development codes.