Government / Politics

COMMENTARY: Reform The Intergovernmental Committee, Don’t Kill It

The Intergovernmental Committee should be a vital element of our government structure. If it isn’t working, it’s the fault of the leadership, not the concept

Only a short time after hosting a special meeting advertised as promoting cooperation on the tax sharing agreement between San Benito County and the City of Hollister, Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Rivas tried to kill the vital Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) in which the county, Hollister and San Juan Bautista get together to iron out things in their mutual interest.

In his email Chairman Rivas wrote, in part, "as Chair of the Board of Supervisors, I do not have unilateral authority to cancel the Intergovernmental Committee meeting(s); but I can alter the County’s participation on the committee….Meeting frequency: County Board members/staff should only commit to quarterly or bi-annual meetings."

It should be obvious to even a rank amateur that a county where it takes forever to get anything done can’t afford to go months between discussions of important issues that impact its government entities and residents.

Perhaps it would have helped if Chairman Rivas had actually attended more of the meetings to which he appointed himself the primary county representative and was consistently absent; as far as I can tell he only made one meeting out of seven. No doubt this impressive title, but not his attendance record, will find the way to his resume.

I also have no doubt the committee has problems focusing and even communicating as indicated by the length of the meetings alone, but solving those internal problems is what leadership is about – taking unilateral action is not leadership, it’s merely brinkmanship; there is an significant difference. If every entity did it, it would mean the death knell of of the IGC; you can’t take your ball and go home when important public interests are at stake.

This committee cannot vote to implement something even if it wanted to, there is less than a quorum from any of the three member agencies; it exists solely to exchange ideas (and feel out positions and horse trades). The committee needs reform, not a retreat.

The first reform would be to reduce the number of participants. There is no reason to have two members show up from each entity when one well-prepared representative will do; this immediately cuts the speeches and posturing in half.

Reduce the committee staff to one, just someone to take the minutes. There is no reason to go into deep staff discussions at this forum, the positions and concerns of each entity should be known by the member and others, if not you’ve picked the wrong person as a representative.

Set a meeting time limit, for instance one hour. The work (speeches and posturing) will expand or contract to fill the time allotted to it. Open ended meetings and useless briefings last until someone has to leave to fulfill another obligation.

Make sure people make a commitment to do old business and keep coming back to it; so-and-so will bring back the position on such-and-such at the next meeting. Be blunt, this is a working group, don’t beat around the bush; members are there to broach possible solutions – no give and take and means no progress.

How about trying that first rather than killing this essential committee by neglect? Who knows, maybe the Intergovernmental Committee can lead the way rather than follow our local history of self-serving ineffective non-cooperation. We’ve had far too much of, “I can’t get my way so I’m out of here” already.

Marty Richman

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer. Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects.   Marty was elected to represent the City of Hollister District 4 on the City Council in November, 2018. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.