TRAVERSE CITY — Practices for picking members of Traverse City’s various appointed boards need some changes, on that much city commissioners agreed.
But city leaders still were divided over how the mayor should pick candidates for a handful of boards where the final recommendation is the mayor’s to make.
Four of seven commissioners favored a policy requiring ad hoc committees interview candidates for every city appointment, including the mayor’s choices. City Clerk Benjamin Marentette said he’d draft a policy for future debate, one where the mayor would serve on all ad hocs that would interview candidates for their picks.
Commissioner Christie Minervini said she wants a more transparent process where applicants have some idea what to expect.
That goes both for the selection process and for what it means to serve on a particular board — city leaders widely agreed with her and Commissioner Ashlea Walter’s suggestions to create hand-outs detailing a board member’s responsibilities, basics on the Open Meetings Act and more, among other suggested changes for all appointments.
Both Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe and Commissioner Tim Werner said ad hoc committees interviewing mayoral appointments would be a more transparent process, one where the public and candidates alike could watch the debate over who’s the best pick.
Shamroe contrasted that with city mayors conducting one-on-one interviews “wherever, whenever, off the books as it were.”
“I just want consistency so the person volunteering their time can feel like they’ve had their voice heard and get feedback and get interaction,” she said.
Carruthers asserted his process as just as transparent as an ad hoc committee, noting he doesn’t have an office where he could routinely hold interviews. He’s met with people at different times and places to accommodate their schedules.
Shamroe countered there’s no public notice for those meetings like there would be with an ad hoc.
Ad hocs themselves previously haven’t been conducted consistently, Commissioner Brian McGillivary said. He pointed, as one example, to times where incumbents had to re-interview and others where they didn’t.
“These are the types of inconsistencies that get people questioning what’s going on, and the issues that have caused the most hard feelings overall going forward,” he said.
Routinely interviewing every candidate would solve that, Commissioner Tim Werner said.
Ad hocs frequently have a tough job of making a subjective call among several well-qualified candidates, McGillivary said. Sometimes the deciding factor comes down to small differences.
Carruthers said ad hocs’ 10-minute interviews tend to resemble “speed dating” that doesn’t give enough time to learn about a candidate.
He defended his past appointments and said he wasn’t sure he could support requiring ad hocs interview candidates for his picks. He conceded that he argued for the same thing in the past but said he didn’t trust the mayor at the time.
Commissioners who do support such a requirement repeatedly have said it’s not about any individual up for a particular vote.
Shamroe and Minervini also said Monday that a policy isn’t just about who’s currently serving on the commission. Shamroe said the policy could be in place for years to come, and she saw it as another way for the city to take leadership and go beyond mere legal requirements.
“So I think taking our bare minimum standards as our mantle is not necessarily the best we can do as a city, so this is just another layer that allows the public some transparency,” she said. “Again, in the end two of us could say, ‘Boy, I really like this person,’ and the mayor could say, ‘Boy, I really like that person for this minor reason,’ like Commissioner McGillivary referenced, and at least then there’s that discussion.”
State law lets mayors pick candidates for planning commission and downtown development authority appointments. An agreement with Traverse Area District Library gives Traverse City’s mayor and commissioners the same say over the library board’s two city-appointed members. And the mayor must, according to city charter, choose people to fill vacant partial terms on Traverse City Light & Power’s board.
City policy also gives Human Rights Commission appointments to the mayor.
For all mayoral appointments, the majority of the board must confirm the choice, but can’t vote on anyone the mayor doesn’t select.
Commissioners could add an additional process so long as it doesn’t conflict with any applicable laws, city Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht said. So requiring ad hoc interviews for mayoral appointments would be OK as long as the final recommendation is still the mayor’s to make.