By Chris Frost
Oxnard—The Oxnard City Council approved changing the Citizen Advisory Group (CAG) rules which include a nepotism rule along with verbiage brought up by Councilman Bryan MacDonald that adds excused and unexcused absences to the ordinance.
City Manager Alex Nguyen said the ordinance would promote uniformity across all the Citizen Advisory Groups, and create efficiency, staff management and align the CAGS with available resources.
“Not all, but most of the CAGS would have seven members,” he said. “They would comprise of volunteers, one from each council district and one at-large member. The council members would volunteer a member from a district, and the mayor would nominate one at-large.”
From there, he said the mayor would place the nominee on the agenda for ratification.
“If there are no volunteers from a particular district, that respective council member can nominate a volunteer from elsewhere in the city,” Nguyen said.
Exceptions to the change are the Mobile Home Rent Review Board, he said, along with the Downtown Design Review Committee. The terms for each CAG will be four years and will eventually coincide with the appointing council member.
“The mayoral appointments would also be for four years rather than two, and that has to do with the person serving on boards and commissions, their effectiveness and institutional capacity,” he said. “No board member will be appointed for more than two consecutive terms, and the term limits for everyone will be prospective.”
Starting this spring, he said the city would gather each CAG chairperson to do an ad-hoc committee to work up a set of bylaws that would be uniform across all the boards and commissions, as much as possible.
“We would only broadcast on video the planning commission, and we would go back to digital audio recording and archiving all the other meetings,” he said. “The Brown Act and the Sunshine Act would apply to all the boards and commissions, and they would be able to appoint an ad hoc committee, a short-term group, but not establish a standing sub-committee.”
Nguyen wants each board and commission to provide a report to the council each year, and if someone is nominated, the city will conduct a background check on the applicant before placing the person on the council agenda.
“We highly recommend converting to Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, because it’s much more simple,” he said.
Staff proposed a nepotism rule which prevents people related from city employees from serving on a CAG.
Categories that would apply are a spouse, domestic partner, parent, stepparent, brother, sister, child, stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild, mother-in-law, father-in-law, daughter-in-law, or son-in-law of an elected city official or elected city official who has a loco parentis relationship.
“The person would not be permitted to serve on more than one CAG at a time,” he said. “It makes sense.”
The Finance and Governance Committee recommended changing the eligibility requirement from being a registered voter to a city resident, and that got changed.
“The mayor recommends that we don’t need the nepotism limitation because they are volunteers,” Nguyen said. “I understand the logic of the point you raised. We were also asked to conduct a purpose and assessment of each CAG, and I asked that we do not do that until after the budget season.”
In public comments, Sofia Vega said she likes term limits on the CAGS and wants term limits for council members too.
“I also like the fact they will work on the bylaws,” she said. “The CAGS should be equipped with information to make appropriate recommendations to the council.”
She believes the city should televise all meetings.
Oxnard Planning Commission Chairman Vincent Stewart said the commission has a high learning curve and unless you are in that industry, you do not understand the municipal codes and the California Equal Quality Act, which deals with the environment.
“There is a lot to learn, and it takes a while,” he said. “My first year, I was in that learning curve, and my second year, I started to catch on and understand what is going on so I could make good decisions.”
Alicia Purcell said when the CAG change came before the Finance and Governance Committee, Mayor Flynn said nepotism was only a problem if someone gets paid and the CAG members volunteer, so it didn’t concern him.
“Now tonight, the proposal has changed, the one coming to the council and the nepotism clause does not apply to anyone already serving on a CAG as of Jan. 1,” she said. “This change grandfathers in the spouse of a council member, and it’s poor optics.”
If the policy is good for everyone, she wants to know why there is an exception.
“I’ve been told by a city employee that their job was threatened by a CAG member who is a spouse of a council member,” she said. “The city employee told me directly, so it is not some loose rumor.”
She pointed out a volunteer CAG member has no power to carry out such a threat, but if that person is married to a council member, it changes the game.
Nguyen said he would love to televise the CAGS, but they can’t do it right now.
“I envy other cities that have full-blown TV studios,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”
The meetings are published and require a little more effort, he said, but residents have access to the CAG meetings.
“The background check is a straight liability issue, and we are going to do that,” he said. “We must do a background check.”
If it takes a full-term for planning commission members to get up to speed, he said the city doesn’t manage that well.
“The training budget for the planning commission was removed in recent years,” he said. “We have to re-double our efforts to provide adequate training.”
Nguyen apologized to Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez, and he did not want to interfere with someone on a CAG currently.
“This proposal, in its entirety, is meant to be prospective,” Nguyen said. “These changes would take place as new members come in.”
Council member Vianey Lopez said she supports the process as a way to further involve residents in districts.
“I hope this encourages others to get involved and be active,” she said.
Councilman Bert Perello said he trusts that Roy Prince will do a good job and he will not challenge the change.
“It is an individual that will be in jeopardy if it goes into place,” he said. “We should also let the public know how many people would fall into that category as members of a family. I asked that question earlier.”
Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez responded to Purcell’s comment and said Roy Prince is her husband and an architect with many years experience who serves on the planning commission.
“I would like whoever that employee who felt their job was threatened because of me, please come forward,” she said. “I have never, ever, threatened anyone’s job under our current city manager or any of the former city managers. It’s so easy to get up here and say anything you want without any proof, and I reject it.”
Perello approves direct appointment for the CAGS and asked if he could look elsewhere for a CAG member if the applicants are not qualified and Nguyen said the council member needs to look for other people either inside or outside the district.
Councilman Bryan MacDonald supported the change but asked about the absence rule, which says three absences, and you automatically resign or six absences over a year.
“It seems like a staunch rule,” he said. “We’re dealing with volunteers, and people are coming forward to help us do things. We need to remember that people have lives.”
He advocates adding excused and unexcused to the absence rule.
Councilwoman Gabriela Basua said she wants to make sure the CAGS are efficient.
“When we look at these CAGS at the beginning of the fiscal year, I hope we free up some staff time, and if we do have to revamp the CAGS, I hope we find positions in the city for the applicants in the city, 35 of them, according to our city clerk,” she said.
Councilman Oscar Madrigal agrees with MacDonald and said things happen in life.
“This is a volunteer position, so from the looks of things, we have 35 of 63 spots taken right now,” he said. “For us to remove our volunteers is poor judgment.”
Flynn agreed with Basua and commented that if volunteers put in a lot of time to help the city, how do they filter through the city?
“What is the role of citizen advisory groups and how do they improve the standard of living in the City of Oxnard?” he said.
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