Minority Appointment Plan Changes Little : Ethnic Representation on Pasadena Commissions Less Than Before

Times Staff Writer

When the Board of Directors decided last August to reorganize the commissions that advise it on citywide issues, one of its top priorities was to bring more minorities and residents of low-income neighborhoods into the decision-making process.

But when the directors began using a new appointment process for the first time last week to fill 11 vacancies on 17 commissions, only one of the new members belonged to a minority group.

In addition, the number of black, Asian and Latino members on 12 major commissions dropped from 38 to 35. And the number of commissions that have no minority members increased from one to two.

"It was just a plan to maintain the status quo," complained Director William Paparian, a vocal critic of the new appointment process. "I think everyone lost sight of the original goal."

Director Kathryn Nack, one of the chief architects of the reorganization plan, said the loss of minority representation was "purely happenstance."

"It wasn't something we intended to happen," she said, explaining that the appointment guidelines ensured that there would be little immediate change so that experienced commissioners would remain in place.

Mayor John Crowley said the decrease was caused partly by the confusion inherent in making a major change in an appointment process involving 139 commissioners.

"The first step is bound to be confusing," he said.

Crowley said he was confident that the board will increase the number of minority commissioners as vacancies occur.

Paparian said he will take the city to court Friday in an effort to void the new appointments and force the city to establish a process that would allow directors greater freedom in choosing commissioners.

Previously, three board members, selected on a rotating basis, met in private to make nominations that were later approved by the full board.

Under the new process, each of the seven board members took part in the selection process and was allowed to make one nomination to each of the commissions. All choices were ratified by the full board and will take effect Sunday.

Only 16 Vacancies

The directors had to reappoint any commissioner who wanted to continue serving. There were only 16 vacancies among 139 positions on 17 commissions. So far, the board has filled 11 of the vacancies.

The order in which directors made selections for each commission was determined by drawing lots. A director could nominate a new member only if there was a vacancy when it was his turn to pick.

On several occasions, Paparian refused to follow the reorganization guidelines and nominate incumbent commission members for reappointment. Instead, he nominated his own candidates, including some members of minority groups. But the board ignored his nominations and reappointed incumbents.

"Again it shows we're just paying lip service to affirmative action," he said.

Black Chosen

Director William Thomson nominated the only new minority commissioner who was ratified by the full board. Jeffrey Dorsey, a black, was chosen for the seven-member Library Commission.

The drop in minority representation on the 12 major commissions left the number of black, Asian and Latino members at 33% of the 105 commissioners. Blacks, Asians and Latinos make up 44.6% of the city's population, according to the 1980 census.

The two commissions with no minority members are the nine-member Utility Advisory Commission, which controls the city's water and power company, and the seven-member Transportation Commission, which oversees transit policy.

"I'm particularly disturbed by those two commissions," said Director Rick Cole, the only director who opposed ratifying the makeup of those commissions. "To have two commissions with no minority representation is intolerable."

Compromise Plan

The new appointment process was a compromise version of an earlier proposal that called for all commissioners to resign. Directors would not have been required to reappoint any incumbents, although most directors said they would have tended to follow that policy.

But Nack and others criticized that proposal, saying it was an insult to commissioners who had volunteered their time to serve the city and would result in the loss of experienced commission members.

Nack, Thomson and Cole met privately last month and proposed the selection process used by the board.

Paparian called this plan a "charade" that denied the directors the freedom to choose new members who could make the commissions more ethnically and geographically balanced. But the plan was adopted, with Paparian and Cole dissenting.

Called Illegal

Paparian said the private meeting, and later phone calls from Nack, Thomson and Cole to other board members to discuss the matter, violated the state's open meeting law. He said the plan was formulated in an illegal manner that was grounds for voiding the entire process.

City Atty. Victor Kaleta has denied any impropriety, and the board has voted to fight any attempt by Paparian to void the plan.

Nack said the reorganization was an improvement because it standardized the appointment process and made the directors publicly accountable for their appointments.

Despite the lack of minority representation, the reorganization appears to have increased the number of commissioners from some previously under-represented areas.

District 3, which covers parts of central and north Pasadena and previously had the fewest commissioners, picked up two new members for a total of 11.

Gains Called Minor

But Paparian said such gains were minor and did little to correct the lack of representation for impoverished neighborhoods in central and northwest Pasadena, where the median family income is as low as $9,800 a year.

Residents from those areas make up 30% of the city's population but hold only 12% of the commission seats.

More than half of the commissioners still come from affluent areas such as Linda Vista, Oak Knoll and Lower Hastings Ranch, where the median income ranges from $28,300 to $48,700, according to census information. These areas contain only 20% of the city's population.

Cole agreed that the reorganization failed to achieve the goal of greater representation for minorities and low-income residents, which he considered the top priority.

"Clearly we should have done a better job," Cole said. "I'm disappointed, but this is a first step. Change will come slowly, but it will come."

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