City Launches Commissioners’ Congress

Mayor Marina Khubesrian (far right) addresses more than 80 attendees at the 1st Annual Commissioners’ Congress Feb. 28 at the War Memorial Building. City officials are looking to have this event every year. Photo by Henk Friezer

City commissioners met recently to report to the South Pasadena City Council, to network, to share information and to receive recognition for their work.

These volunteer advisers to the City Council serve on 14 commissions. The council and City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe invited them to the 1st Annual Commissioners’ Congress Feb. 28 at the War Memorial Building on Fair Oaks Avenue.

The commissions focus on such topics as public safety, natural resources, development, public works, cultural heritage, seniors and youth. A few have legally mandated responsibilities.

Almost 90 volunteer positions are available for three-year terms, according to the city’s website. Members are appointed by the mayor with the approval of the City Council.

Before the program began at 6:45 p.m., Congress attendees enjoyed a buffet-style dinner. Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian then welcomed the approximately 80 participants. She asked members of each commission to stand to be recognized.

“I can feel the energy in the room,” DeWolfe said after the commissioners were introduced. “I feel like this is such a special group of people. You’re all volunteering your time and brain cells for the betterment of the city.”

DeWolfe then explained how the event came about.

“Every year the commissions share their annual reports with the council,” she said.

She was referring to the brief oral summary each commission chair presents during a council meeting. This often occurs during a meeting with a full agenda, she said. Only one or two reports can be heard per meeting, she added.

“I was hearing from councilmembers and commission members that this was not a completely satisfactory process,” she said.

City staff then developed the idea of a Commissioners’ Congress.

“We wanted to create a forum where each commission can really spend time talking about what they’re working on, both in the past and in the future,” DeWolfe said.

She said this can be accomplished by getting the group together on one occasion.

With this arrangement, she said, “the council and staff have the time to focus on the reports.”

“Most importantly,” DeWolfe continued, “the rest of the commission members are here to hear them, as well.”

In addition, she said, “we thought it would be really valuable for all of you to get to know the other commissioners in town. Having you all know each other makes this group much more powerful.”

Those from one commission were seated with members of another to encourage networking, she said.

DeWolfe said the city also wanted to express its appreciation for “all of your time and effort for giving so much to the community.”

This type of community forum has not been organized in a number of years. Former Mayor Mike Ten, who served on the council from 2003 to 2011, held such a meeting during his tenure as mayor.

DeWolfe admitted that the city’s assistance to commissions has sometimes been lacking and inconsistent. She promised to correct this.

“We are making a commitment to make sure that all of our commissions get the appropriate technical expertise and staff support,” she said.

She also committed to ensuring that commissioners receive sufficient training. Additionally, she pledged improvements in communications.

Mayor Marina Khubesrian followed up on this.

“We did not use our commissions as effectively as we could have in the past,” she said. “We’re going to move forward with a higher level of commitment and probably higher expectations.” 

“We have a lot of important things to do,” Khubesrian continued. “We have critical projects coming up.” Climate change, public safety, budget deficits, youth and senior concerns and parks were among issues she said needed to be addressed.

Khubesrian said the city is poised for growth. This is because the threat of the proposed SR-710 North freeway extension has, for the most part, ended, she said. The city is also becoming a magnet for the arts, she said, and developers want to build here.

Following her comments, commission chairs each presented a three-minute report. Slides listing each group’s 2018 goals and 2019 work plan were projected onto a screen. This took approximately an hour.

No representative spoke on behalf of the Public Arts Commission, which has recently been created. 

City staff then collected completed evaluation forms from commissioners. This was  to help plan next year’s event, officials said.

Following the meeting, a number of commissioners reacted positively to the new approach.

Jeremy Ding, Public Safety Commission, said, “It’s good to see what all the commissions are up to as we wouldn’t normally know.”

“It gives you a chance to meet all the other commissioners,” said Gayle Glauz, Public Works Commission.

Two commissioners said that at one time they planned to attend meetings of other commissions to find out what they were doing. However, both said this had proven impractical.

Steve Dahl, Planning Commission, said the fact that commissioners are thanked is important. “People care so much, and they give so much time,” he said. “I realize there are a lot of people who make the city work.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Joe said the congress should be continued. “The most important thing is to recognize the work that commissioners do and the energy they put into this,” he said after the meeting.

Councilmember Michael Cacciotti agreed with continuing the effort, saying it “develops camaraderie and teamwork.”