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Newport Beach and Costa Mesa should do background checks on commission applicants

I’ve seen a steady rise in community interest as it relates to residents applying for city boards and commissions in Newport and Costa Mesa.

I’m not the only one noticing this trend.

Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown says the city recently held a “workshop on this very thing because many people have been inquiring.”

What’s driving this interest?

Serving in these capacities has long been a pathway for future City Council runs. Many former planning commissioners, for example, have found their way to council seats.

Of course there are those with no political ambitions, just a sense of community pride and a desire to make a difference.

Good intentions aside, getting appointed to a position on one of these boards or commissions is another story, and not without controversy.

When appointments roll around in either city, I receive a flurry of emails from folks complaining either about the lack of an appointee’s qualifications — or claims that “the fix was in.”

That got me thinking: How well does each city vet these applicants?

Let’s start by examining the applications Newport and Costa Mesa offer online.

It’s important to note that filling out an application in either city becomes public information.

The Costa Mesa application is pretty basic, requiring information like name, address, etc., and asks what committee the applicant is interested in, why and what beneficial experience they have. It suggests a resume be included and asks, “As a committee member, what ideas or projects would you like to review or propose?”

Newport’s application goes further, asking if the applicant has ever been “convicted of any crime or violation of any law or statute other than minor traffic violations,” is “currently employed by the city or contracted services and, if applying for the Finance Committee, whether they’ve declared bankruptcy in the last 10 years.”

Applicants are also asked to state any “past, current or foreseeable future financial interests of any kind that may conflict with the Board, Commission or Committee you are applying for, as well as current civic positions held, occupational history,” and the names of two Newport residents as reference who aren’t officially connected to the city.

​With what little information Costa Mesa asks online, and all the info Newport does, seems neither city clerk’s​ office verifies anything on these applications other than if the person is a registered voter ​in that city and eligible to serve.

“Sometimes certain council members will meet with the applicants,” says Costa Mesa City Clerk Brenda Green. “In January of this year special meetings were held with the whole council to interview commission applicants. This is not a set process; it is council’s choice.”

“The city takes the appointing of a volunteer to a board or commission very seriously, and many times, council will do their own fact-checking on candidates and conduct interviews,” Brown says.

That being said, shouldn’t someone other than council members thoroughly be vetting these applications, checking background, calling references and certifying applicant claims?

How about a simple Google search?

Let’s face it: If you’ve lied on the application — even by omission — the smart move is here to continue leaving out pertinent information when interviewed by council members.

​I've watched the political scene long enough to know if you want one of these appointments it’s best you’ve at least voted for the majority of council members in power in your city. Or better yet, ​donated or worked on ​one or more of their campaigns.

If you’ve been an outspoken critic of them or their policies, don’t even waste your time ​ here. ​

Quite frankly, before you even fill out an application, the prudent strategy would be to reach out to people politically connected and have them lobby council members on your behalf.

Depending on the feedback you’ll know if you have any chance of landing an appointment. ​

As I looked into the appointment process in both cities this week, it’s apparent to me that they should be revamped. And applicant information should be fully verified by a third party, not council members who could be accused of cronyism.

But there’s something else I discovered looking at Newport’s application online that I found telling.

Included is a copy of city policy on “Decorum and Order for City Commissions, Committees and Boards.”

In a nutshell the policy governs “the actions and deliberations of City commissions,​ committees and boards so that their public deliberations and actions be conducted in an atmosphere free from personal animosity and hostility.” (You can download Costa Mesa and Newport applications from my website, bvontv.com)

​Does there really need to be a policy to remind appointees they can’t act like jerks to the public?

Apparently common sense isn’t that common these days.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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