LIVINGSTON -- A Citizens' Advisory Committee anywhere else might be a yawner, but in a town with often rowdy council meetings -- and now a recall of the mayor and two other council members -- it too has spawned controversy.
The committee -- deemed unproductive, angry and too critical -- has been dismantled and is being reformed as a board focused on community service, carrying out happier city missions.
The Citizens Advisory Committee, created in 1993, was designed to be an 11-member board of area residents whose purpose was to investigate tasks assigned to them by the City Council and report back with recommendations.
If there were no tasks assigned, the committee was to investigate and make recommendations to the City Council on any matter concerning the betterment of the community, according to the city's municipal code.
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Vickie Lewis, Livingston's finance director and the staff member assigned to aid the committee at various times over the years, said the committee went from a productive group that picked out street names and determined tree plantings to a volatile, unproductive bunch often concerned with criticizing city leaders.
Mayor Daniel Varela got his local political start on the Citizens' Advisory Committee.
"It was extremely, extremely political. It gave an opportunity for folks in the community to participate in the very aggressive attack platform, which I don't think that's what a Citizens' Advisory Committee should be," Varela said.
Livingston resident and Planning Commission candidate Rosa Kindred-Winzer was a member of the advisory committee for six months before it was dismantled. Kindred-Winzer said during much of the political banter she mostly listened, being a new resident wanting to learn more about her community. But she said many of the concerns of the committee were legitimate, such as addressing the need for code enforcement in the community or improving street lighting.
Because of council concerns over the tone and negativity of the group, city staff didn't schedule many meetings for the committee in 2009. In February the City Council, by vote of 3-2, adopted an ordinance to form a Citizens' Service Committee.
According to a staff report on the new service committee, some of its duties are planning and organizing "activities to enhance the beauty of the community," promoting wholesome community activities and improving the residents' quality of life.
The service committee will also be charged with carrying out community activities and celebrations that could include parades, pageants, contests and meals served to the public. It should also promote and produce performances by local, regional and national artists.
The list goes on.
The staff report indicates there will be no fiscal impact of such a committee, which raises questions about how then it will put on parades or produce local performances. Varela said the council will consider funding special events based on recommendations from the committee on a case-by-case basis.
Luis Flores, who's been critical of the council, said he went to some of the old Citizens Advisory Committee meetings, and they were at times critical. He questions, however, the need for a service committee whose mission he says is so much like other organizations, such as the Livingston Kiwanis Club.
"When membership is down in these organizations, you are wanting to establish another committee that is so similar?" he asked.
Flores sees a role for the old advisory committee -- a group of citizens that provides feedback or recommendations to the council as to what the city needs. Although that's basically what the council is -- a body of citizens that provides direction to city staff.
Varela points out citizens individually can still advise the council at its regular meetings about what they think of the direction of the city.
Livingston has yet to advertise seeking residents to become members of its new Citizens' Service Committee.
Reporter Amy Starnes can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.