Advocate Looks to Get More Blacks on Boards
By Dianne Anderson
Not everybody is fit to sit on all city commissions or boards, but almost anybody can do a little something to change their community, like showing up to voice concerns and keeping a closer watch on what the movers and shakes are up to lately.
Some could attend city council meetings, or they can help by bringing back community input and concerns to their commissioners. Whatever the method, a lot of commission and board vacancies are just waiting to be filled.
Long Beach resident Tiffany Felix said the Black community must become more visible.
“We’re not even present at the council meetings, we have to create a rotation. If some of us are going and giving a couple of paragraphs of the highlights, people can know and have a pulse of what’s going on in the city,” said Felix, Senior Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety at ViacomCBS.
This coming year, Felix, along with several other local high-powered Black women are pushing for more representation in Long Beach, and surrounding cities. Through their organization Black Women United for Progress, which recently completed its bylaws, Felix plans to push their agenda forward when they launch at the top of the year.
Recently, the Mayor announced there are more women on the boards overall, but Felix emphasized that there are many different commissions with different levels of authority. Blacks may be represented on some commissions, but they are not represented enough on the city’s five charter commissions, which also happen to be the seats with the most decision-making power.
She feels that the community has to step up to the next level to not only become seated on city commissions, but also on school boards to help ensure that Black children are being treated fairly equitably and inclusively.
“We can’t sit back and complain if we are not willing to make any contribution,” she said.
Without adequate representation, trying to create change will be a struggle, if not impossible. She said it’s like a hamster on a wheel.
“It becomes very cyclical as long as we’re not there to challenge it and move against the grain of conventional thought that has been there with the city. That’s part of the problem,”
Many commissions do not require prior experience to get involved, but just a willingness and interest to help out. Several seats are now up for grabs.
James Ahumada, a spokesperson for Mayor Robert Garcia, said that throughout the year, the Mayor accepts applications for commissioner appointments and all residents that are interested in serving their community are encouraged and welcome to apply.
He said the percentage of African American commissioners represents about 17% of the total commissioner population.
“Long Beach’s system of authorities, boards, commissions, and committees provides one way for residents who have special experience or interests to participate in the City’s decision-making process by advising the City Council on numerous issues,” he said.
Larry Rich, the sustainability coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, said the benefit of serving on the commissions are multi-fold. Commissioners learn the ins and outs of how their city works within their specific area of interest.
But he said that some people also look at the experience as a resume builder.
“A lot of times commissions are used as a stepping stone to city council,” he said.
The City Council also typically looks to commissioners and board members to provide feedback on things like planning and urban development.
Rich said that he doesn’t think there has been an African American commissioner on the sustainability commission since Robin Thorne, a local environmental engineer and nonprofit leader, left after serving several years. Recently, they have a new Black commissioner, Keisha Gaines, who brings a wealth of experience, and also works on environmental compliance for SoCal Edison.
Rich said that while the city council is the ultimate decision-makers on the projects, they are open to updates and recommendations.
He said that the information chain is important for the community and council.
“They’re constantly updated on information and they’re meant to share it back to their constituencies in their neighborhoods within the circles they move in, so they’re furthering the information. This is what the departments and what the community organizations are doing to further sustainability,” he said.
To learn more about how about the commissions, and becoming commissioner, see https://www.longbeach.gov/mayor/action/commissions/