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Council Votes to Keep Disabilities Commission, Discusses 'Civility' Policy

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By Jorge Casuso

December 15, 2021 -- The City Council on Tuesday voted to consolidate three Commissions but keep the Disabilities Commission and set term limits for regional boards.

It also took steps to come up with a "civility" policy for members of boards and commissions, as well as the public, but failed to pin down a clear definition of the term and how it can be enforced.

In a 6 to 0 vote with Councilmember Lana Negrete absent, the Council consolidated the Social Services Commission, the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on the Senior Community.

It kept the Disabilities Commission despite a recommendation by staff to include it in the newly forged commission that has yet to be named in an effort to save nearly $150,000 in staffing costs.

"I personally view the subject of people with disabilities in its own category," said Mayor Sue Himmelrich.

"It's either consolidate them or figure out what we're not going to fund" with the money saved, said Councilmember Gleam Davis before voting to keep the Disability Commission.

Davis made a subsequent motion approved by the Council to direct staff to come back with ideas for better ways to support boards and commissions that would reduce staffing costs.

The Council also voted 6 to 0 on Tuesday to impose term limits on two regional boards that have been represented by the same appointees for more than two decades ("Council to Debate Term Limits for Regional Boards," December 13, 2021).

After a short debate, the Council agreed to let the representatives appointed to the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California and the Los Angeles County West Vector Control serve out their current terms.

Instead of serving indefinite terms, new appointees to the regional boards will abide by the same term limits imposed on City boards and commissions -- a maximum of two four-year terms, or three if they receive a super-majority vote of the Council.

Davis expressed her reservations, noting that former mayor Judy Abdo's 25 years on the MWD board and Santa Monica College Trustee Nancy Greenstein 20 years on the Vector Board give them invaluable experience and seniority.

"There are cons to this," Davis said. "The cons will be that our voice will not be as elevated as it has been. Seniority plays a big role. These are both very technical boards.

"I think it's a big loss for our City," she added. "I think it's a big loss for our voice."

Councilmember Phil Brock, who made the motion, argued that the pros -- which include boosting civic involvement -- outweighed Davis' concerns.

"I want residents to be given a chance to be included who can add new voices," said Brock, adding that there are water experts among Santa Monica's 94,000 residents who may want to serve on the MWD board.

"This is a way for residents to be involved," he said.

In another 6 to 0 vote, the Council directed staff to draft a civility policy, although they were hard pressed to define what constitutes civility and how it can be enforced.

"This in no way is intended to reduce people's first amendment rights," said Davis. "We cannot mandate civility but can suggest everyone treat each other with respect."

"Some members of the public believe this is a form of censorship," said Brock. "This is not an attempt to add censorship to public discourse at all."

"I don't believe there's anything we can say if someone makes public comment meant to be hurtful or mean," said Councilmember Kristin McCowan.

"It is something that's very difficult to control," said Himmelrich.

The Council agreed it is also something difficult to define -- "decorum" and "respect" were among the terms suggested.

The Council on Tuesday also voted to reduce the Urban Forest Task Force from nine to seven members and the Arts Commission from eleven to nine members.

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