Calling it the “best turnout they’ve seen in years,” City Council members were delighted with the sheer number of applicants who showed up eager to serve on City committees during the regular meeting Monday.
More than 25 people swarmed the Council Chambers on Rosanna Street to interview for spots on 12 different volunteer committees. Members of these committees report to Council on matters ranging from arts and culture, to development, to library issues to the City’s newest public panel: The open government commission.
Championed by Councilman Perry Woodward, the open government commission was created in 2009 to act as a watchdog to City government and to lift the curtain of government secrecy.
Until now, the commission had been run by Councilmen Dion Bracco, Peter Leroe-Munoz and former Mayor Al Pinheiro, rather than by members of the public.
Specifically, the open government commission’s task is to handle the release of sensitive information to the public, keep City management accountable to the established open government ordinance and to act as an advocate for the public to push for more government transparency.
However, having Council members run the open government commission is like having the “fox guard the hen house,” in Councilman Woodward’s words. Council agreed and voted Sept. 17 to allow members of the public to sit on the committee.
Five community members showed up Dec. 10 to interview for one of three open slots on the open government commission, encouraging Woodward and the other Council members that the public cares about government transparency.
The five applicants include Jack Foley, retired San Jose Mercury News reporter and current Dispatch Editorial Board member; Robert Esposito, information security engineer at Boeing and active church member in Gilroy; Patricia Cooper, retired Gilroy Police records manager; Edward Delgado, involved community volunteer and retired carpenter; and Walter Glines, former City Editor at the Gilroy Dispatch and Gavilan College School Board trustee.
“I have been an avid watcher of local government for as long as I’ve been here,” noted Glines, during group interviews for the commission.
Cooper believed that her work history with GPD records could bring a level of expertise and balanced perspective to the board.
“You walk a fine line when you release any record to the public,” she said.
Esposito described his career at Boeing as “being in the business of making sure the right information gets delivered to the right people.”
Foley underscored his 30-year career in journalism, promising Council he would bring an informed and serious point of view to the position.
Delgado said he has been looking for a way to get more involved in local government, and this looked like the perfect window of opportunity for him.
With just three positions open and five “viable” applicants, Woodward said Council will have a tough time picking their top choices. Council will publicly vote on their choices for commission slots at their Jan. 7 meeting.
“They each bring a different skill set to the table. Without commenting on every applicant, I am delighted to see that people of this caliber are interested in serving on the open government commission,” Woodward said.
For now, there are only three seats open on the five-member commission, because the remaining two seats are reserved for two Council members yet to be appointed. But by the end of 2013, Council’s involvement in the committee will fizzle out – according to the open government ordinance – and the committee will be purely run by the public.
“I wish we could just elect these five people who applied right now and let them run with it,” Woodward said.
Initially concerned there wouldn’t be enough interest from the public in serving on the open government commission, Woodward was thrilled with the number of applications Council received.
“This showed us that government transparency is something the community values. That people are prepared to give of themselves to protect it,” he said.
Mayor Don Gage was impressed with the number of people who were interested in serving the broad spectrum of commissions, which includes the arts and cultures commission, the building board of appeals, the historic heritage committee, the housing advisory committee, the library commission, the parks and recreation commission, the personnel commission, the planning commission and the public art committee.
“We’re going to have to make some tough choices,” he said Monday evening, once interviews were complete. “That is a good problem to have.”
It’s certainly a positive trend from the past, when Council had a tough time recruiting people to its commissions. But this year’s turnout blew Council members away.
“That was the best turnout we’ve seen in years,” said Councilman Dion Bracco, excitedly at the meeting.
City Administrator Tom Haglund agreed.
“This was one of the better turnouts I’ve seen in a very long time. One of the more difficult things for cities to do, whether that’s Gilroy or any other city, is to muster enough interest from the public in serving on boards,” Haglund said.
At least two commissions, however, did not have any applicants. This includes the two open seats on the bicycle and pedestrian commission and the one open seat on the physically challenged board of appeals.
Gage said that the City plans to extend the deadline to apply for these committees for a few weeks until the spots are filled. To apply for one of these remaining open slots, visit the City’s website at www.cityofgilroy.org or stop by City Hall, 7351 Rosanna St.