Opinion: In The Hands Of The Few – Once Again City Council Votes To Deny Full Council Representation.

Each City Council member should be equally able to participate in the City Council’s decision making process.  Council members should also be equally responsible for representing the interest of the City of Irvine and Irvine residents, not only during City Council meetings, but also on the various city and outside agency boards, committees and task forces they are appointed to sit on.

The various committees make decisions and recommendations on issues, such as city services, infrastructure and financial obligations, which may then be presented to commissions for input before presentation to the City Council for approval. Council member appointments not only should be divided equally, but they should also be varied in focus and purpose.

In December 2020 the City Council voted to deny Council members equal ability to participate in City Council’s decision making process.

Irvine’s policy in the past almost 50 years gave City Council members and the Mayor equal responsibility for, and ability to, participate in Irvine’s decision making process. In December of 2020 the Irvine City Council approved making permanent the “Rule of 2” policy, which “limits individual council members’ abilities to set the agenda, requiring at least two members’ support on an item before it can be discussed by the panel.

The mayor is not restrained by this policy and can agendize items at will. This rule has served to prevent Council members from representing the interest and concerns of Irvine residents on meeting agendas. Read Voice of OC’s coverage of this decision.

Then on January 11, 2022 the City Council voted for unequal distribution of Council member appointments to City boards, committees and task forces, and to outside agencies.

Council member appointments for designated and alternate representative positions give 3 out of the 5 City Council members the majority of the City’s representative responsibilities.

To give City Council members equal ability to fulfill their responsibility to represent the City of Irvine and Irvine community interests, the appointments should have been relatively equally distributed between Council members. However, the unequal distribution of appointments could not have been more obvious. See the appointments which were approved here.

The approved distribution of appointments serves to give a few Council members a greater voice in making decisions, thereby creating unequal ability of City Council members to represent the City’s interests and the interests of Irvine residents. It should be noted that a few appointments require the appointment of the Mayor (Farrah Khan) and Vice Mayor (Anthony Kuo). However, these appointments do not justify giving the Mayor and Vice Mayor a substantially greater number of appointments.

City policy should require an equal distribution of appointments. City representation is the duty and responsibility of each Council member; it is not an option.

 The Council Member Appointment Process

According to Irvine’s City Clerk, the established appointment process is for the mayor to make the appointment recommendations and to have the City Council approve them. The City Council has the power to change nominations when the recommendations are presented during the City Council meeting.

Risk of Special Interest Influence

Placing decision making in the hands of the few not only provides inadequate City Council representation, it also places the City’s decision making process at increased risk of special interest influence. A small group of people having control of a government entity’s decision making responsibilities is an oligarchy system of government, not a representative democracy.

Where’s the Oversight to Ensure That Appointments are Appropriately Distributed?

According to Irvine’s City Clerk, the oversight role is performed by the City Council when they approve the Mayor’s recommendations.

Residents Can Take Action and Become Engaged in Establishing a More Representative Government

  1. Submit e-Comments or make a public comment:
    E-comments can be made on the meeting agenda website and by in-person or remote public comment during City Council meetings.
  2. Use the power of your vote to create change:
    Residents can demand that incumbent and non-incumbent candidates promise to act to revoke the “rule of 2” and accept equally divided appointed positions on City and outside board, committees and taskforces. Also, residents, if they believe that candidates running for re-election failed to appropriately carry out their duties and responsibilities during their term of office, can ignore the abundance of campaign literature and street signage and refuse to vote for their re-election or their election to other political offices.
  3. Communicate concerns to Irvine’s City Manager, Oliver Chi:
    Demand that City Council appointments be equally distributed and varied in focus and purpose. According to the Irvine City website, one of Irvine’s City Manager’s roles is to “assist the City Council with the development and formation of policies, goals and objectives and to keep the City Council informed of important community issues”. Irvine’s City Manager does not appear to have the ability to prevent the adoption of representative appointments approved by the City Council, but he might be able to influence the representative appointment policy if he becomes aware of substantial community concern.

Public Participation is an Important Ingredient of a Representative Democracy

Robust public participation by Irvine residents is important to inspire the creation of a truly representative decision making process in Irvine that is responsive to their needs, interests and concerns. If we work together, we can make a difference and create change.