Council may disband study groups

More than 100 community volunteers may soon be out of a job. In a special meeting July 7, the Malibu City Council voted to direct staff to look into the formation of commissions to replace the informal study groups, made up of volunteers, that currently research and provide input on local issues.

Four new commissions were proposed: Public Works, Public Safety, Telecommunications, and Parks and Recreation. A Youth Commission is also being considered, but discussion was postponed until September.

Each commission would consist of five members, each appointed by a member of the Council. Each commission would be required to have an attorney present at its meetings, and formal minutes would need to be recorded. Under the proposed plan, the Wastewater Study Group and the Native American Cultural Resources Study Group would become advisory boards, more formal than the existing study groups. The council directed the city attorney to prepare a resolution to disband other study groups made up of volunteers.

Marlene Matlow of the Transportation Study Group told the council that years ago Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn had assured their supporters that Malibu would never become “citified” after incorporation. She urged council members not to form commissions.

“Do that and we will have definitely become citified,” said Matlow. “Do that and you will have cut right through the heart of the dedicated people who’ve served the city as volunteers because of their love of community. Without study groups, we will not only feel betrayed, we will lose the last remnant of what we had as a community prior to cityhood.”

Bruce Darian of the Public Safety Study Group voiced approval of creating commissions because they may have more clout. “People who contribute to the community are not being taken seriously,” he said. When that happens, he said, “People lose interest and you begin to lose the talent that’s coming forward to try to contribute.”

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Frank Basso of the Transportation Study Group also spoke in favor of the commissions. “The study groups have a tendency to go afield. I see nothing negative about it.”

“In our group, we stay very focused,” countered Marissa Coughlan of the Parks and Recreation Study Group. Coughlan argued that commissions required staffing and study groups were made up of volunteers. She also said the idea was premature. “Until such time that we actually have parks, that we actually can afford to fund commissions and staffing, I think we need more staffers on levels we already have in the city before we create new positions that would have to be staffed.”

Pat Greenwood, chair of the Parks and Recreation Study Group, also voiced opposition to forming commissions. “It’s working extremely well,” said Greenwood. The study group system “allows community-wide involvement and has proven to be inclusive, not exclusive, which we think is extremely important in our particular arena. . . . People are serving because they care. It’s from the heart and passion.”

“Commissioners are volunteers too,” said Councilman Tom Hasse, pointing out that commissioners do not receive a salary. Hasse also said commissions provide “excellent training ground” for City Council members.

Staff is expected to report back to the council in September. The commissions could be in place by Oct. 1.

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