Op-ed: Let’s amend regulations to prohibit city employees serving on boards and commissions

On Tuesday, Feb. 23, the Berkeley City Council will consider an amendment to the Municipal Code (item #29) that will prohibit city employees from being appointed to, or serving on, city boards and commissions.

This proposal is brought forward by the Council Ad Hoc Committee on a More Open Government (Jesse Arreguín, Laurie Capitelli, Lori Droste and Susan Wengraf) appointed a year ago to consider recommendations for more open government and report back to the council in less than a year.

After several meetings and discussions, it was agreed that in order to have a more ethical, fair and transparent government, the makeup of volunteer boards and commissions is important. Since the intention of city boards and commissions is to allow citizens to provide input into city governance, policy and implementation, positions on these panels should include as many private citizens as possible.

The proper operation of municipal government requires all boards and commission members to remain independent, impartial and responsible to the public. Currently, the City of Berkeley has no regulation in place prohibiting city employees from serving on city boards and commissions.

In order to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest, and to ensure that the public interest is their primary focus, the ad-hoc committee is recommending that the City Council amend the Berkeley Municipal Code regulations to prohibit city employees from serving on Boards and Commissions. Berkeley should join the many cities in California — including Santa Monica, West Hollywood, San Jose, Palo Alto, Fremont, Emeryville and San Leandro — in passing this good governance item.

As the League of Women Voters said in their recent letter to the Council supporting the item: “We also agree with the ad-hoc committee that ‘the proper operation of municipal government requires all boards and commission members to remain independent, impartial and responsible to the public’.

Though we cannot say there is an inherent conflict of interest, there could certainly be a perceived conflict due to employees’ direct and personal investment in, and benefit from, the operations of the city.” The League added further that “we also take note that several of our neighbors, cities of similar size, do not allow employees or officers of the city to serve on citizen boards and commissions.”

It is simply common sense that there is an inherent or perceived conflict of interest when City of Berkeley employees vote on city policies. There are a myriad of other ways that city employees can participate in the development of city policies.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions, as Word documents or embedded in the email, to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

The authors are all Berkeley City Councilmembers: Laurie Capitelli for District 5, Lori Droste for District 8 and Susan Wengraf for District 6.