PD Editorial: Charter review committee has heavy burden

  • The Santa Rosa city council chamber where city council meetings are held.

The Santa Rosa City Council placed a heavy burden on the all-important Charter Review Committee with its send-off last week. In addition to a long list of options to explore, the council saddled the committee with one unnecessary controversy.

The dispute has to do with the composition of the 21-member panel and its lack of geographic and demographic diversity.

Each council member is allowed to appoint three members, thus there's no real control on whether the demographics of the committee would reflect that of the community. As has happened before, it doesn't. Ninety percent of its members are white — representing a community with 40 percent minorities — and 75 percent of the members live in the city's northeast quadrant.

In addition, no one on the committee is less than 53 years old, and most are former City Council members, city employees, consultants or other City Hall insiders.

The council could have made the committee's work easier — and headed off any shadow over the committee's ultimate recommendations — by simply doing what it did a decade ago when the same problem arouse. It added seven more members to broaden its diversity. Instead, the council this time decided it was satisfied with the mix and moved on.

The community is left to hope that this won't come back to haunt the committee as well as the City Council.

Nonetheless, this controversy shouldn't distract this committee from its vital task. It's charged with updating the city's charter every 10 years. The issues it's mandated to consider include:

<BL@199,12,11,10>Evaluating district elections and whether it's time for Santa Rosa to have each City Council member represent — and run in — a particular district, as county supervisors and legislators do.

<BL@199,12,11,10>Whether the mayor should be directly elected.

<BL@199,12,11,10>The role of community advisory boards.

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