By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The committee charged with recommending changes to how Santa Rosa’s government operates will not be expanded to increase its diversity.
A majority of City Council members on Tuesday said they were comfortable with their appointments and didn’t want to tinker with the makeup of the 21-member body just two days before its first meeting.
“I don’t see any need for change,” said Vice Mayor Jake Ours, noting that he selected people not for their diversity but for their credentials and knowledge of city government.
But other council members said they were disappointed that the Charter Review Committee, which meets every 10 years, didn’t better reflect the demographics of the community, which is 40 percent minority.
“The council I think deserves some criticism for not being more inventive and reaching out for a more diverse committee to consider the charter,” Councilwoman Susan Gorin said.
The council took up the issue after a Press Democrat story noted the 21-member committee — which will consider issues including how to make city government more diverse — wasn’t terribly diverse itself.
Ninety percent of the committee’s members are white, 75 percent are from the city’s northeast quadrant, the median age is 61, and most are City Hall insiders.
Gorin noted that the same issue came up a decade ago, and then the council reacted by adding seven members to expand the group’s diversity.
But Mayor Ernesto Olivares, the city’s first Latino mayor, said diversity is more than just who sits on a particular committee, and shouldn’t be something the city agonizes over once every 10 years.
“That’s not OK with me,” Olivares said. “It’s something we need to be concerned with every day.”
But Olivares said he also wanted to make sure those appointed to the committee had a strong working knowledge of the city, and that the committee was not a “training ground” or a course in “City 101” for those inexperienced with city operations.
Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre, who appointed the only two apparent minorities on the panel, took exception to the suggestion that a diverse group wouldn’t also be an experienced one.
“I did not have a difficult time finding qualified people just because they were an obvious representative of diversity,” she said.
Several pointed out the difficulty of coming up with a diverse committee when each council member appoints three people without consulting with other council members.
Olivares said the issue may be a “wake up call” that the council needs to do better job regarding diversity. But he said perhaps future councils would handle their appointments differently.
The council, on a 4-3 vote, also rejected having alternates serve when regular committee members are not able to attend. Council members Gorin, Vas Dupre and Gary Wysocky were outvoted.