By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Mayor Ernesto Olivares agreed Tuesday that the Santa Rosa City Council failed to create a Charter Review Committee that reflects the diversity of the community, and said he would set up a committee to explore the issue.
“I think we can acknowledge this has been a pretty big wake-up call for us,” Olivares said. “We thought we had systems in place to make this work for us, but it’s not working for us.”
Olivares noted that despite an existing diversity committee and annual report about diversity in city boards and commissions, it was “evident” from the make-up of the 21-member Charter Review Committee that the process was flawed.
“I do not believe we’ve done a good enough job in making the appointments that we need to to reflect the community that we serve,” Olivares said.
The city’s Charter Review Committee meets once every 10 years in a six-month process exploring ideas for improving the way the city operates. It recommends city by-law changes to the council, which then decides whether to put them before voters.
The diversity of the committee has been a hot-button issue in the past, and this year was no exception.
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.
After the final appointments were made in mid-September, Olivares initially defended the make-up of the panel.
“Personally, I haven’t seen it as an issue,” Olivares said at the time. “I’m seeing diversity in our charter review appointments.”
The council later decided, on an split vote, not to increase the size of the committee to increase its diversity.
Since then, Olivares said he’s been in touch with leaders in the Latino community who expressed concern about the process and a willingness to discuss solutions.
A letter to the council, signed “Sonoma County Latino Leaders” but without individual names, said the make-up of the committee was “insensitive and socially unacceptable.”
Olivares said the council “can’t turn back the clock” on the appointments to the charter committee, which holds its second meeting Thursday.
But Councilwoman Susan Gorin reminded the council majority about its decision not to increase the committee’s size.
“So we did have an opportunity to add diversity to that committee and we failed,” she said.
Councilman John Sawyer shot back that two members of the council minority delayed making their appointments until the very end, and could have made more diverse appointments themselves.
Olivares said Sawyer, who sits on the council’s diversity committee, would head the new committee and members of the public would be encouraged to join. He said he expected to have more details, such as the appointment process, meetings and mission, at the council Nov. 1 meeting.