A voice and a wing
Proposed Municipal Advisory Council could include Kenwood
By Arthur Dawson, The Glen Ellen Forum
Given the closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center by the end of this year, the catastrophic fires of last year, and other issues affecting our communities, local citizens have been looking into developing a community voice able to influence decisions affecting our future. Nearly two years ago, a Governance Committee was formed under the Glen Ellen Forum. Its task was to explore mechanisms for determining and expressing the will of the community – “the voice of Glen Ellen” – at the county and other governmental levels.
A number of options were researched and considered, including incorporation as a town, creation of a Community Improvement District, forming a nonprofit organization, creating a voluntary home owners’ association, and forming a Municipal Advisory Council. In April 2017, on the Governance Committee’s recommendation, the Forum voted to support both the creation of a nonprofit organization and a Municipal Advisory Council (Advisory Council or MAC).
The nonprofit and the MAC have been described as “two wings of the same bird” – the nonprofit being free to pursue any actions it deems worthwhile to the community, while the Advisory Council acts as a local government entity with formally recognized standing at the county. The Glen Ellen Forum was recently incorporated as a nonprofit organization. The Forum’s Advisory Council Exploratory Committee (evolved from the Governance Committee) is currently developing draft bylaws and assessing community support for the Advisory Council, which, if formed, will be legally separate from the Forum.
Recognizing that county governments are often unable to deliver a level of service equivalent to that which incorporated cities offer, the State of California set up the first MAC in 1967 as an experiment in community participation. The state government soon gave every county the power to establish MACs in unincorporated areas. Sonoma County established a MAC for the community of Windsor in 1972, which served as a stepping stone to its eventual incorporation as a city. By 1977 there were 25 MACs in eight counties; today there are nearly 200 Advisory Councils in 25 counties across the state.
Advisory Councils advise and advocate to the county on matters relating to their specific areas. They have the ability to help the county develop a better understanding of local needs than the county could otherwise acquire, and can provide a level of effective governance short of actual incorporation. Effective MACs can also help make county government more efficient and less expensive. While limited to advisory power, a MAC bears a similarity to a city council that helps administer “county towns.” They are seen as a tool for encouraging community engagement and helping align public services with community needs and desires.
Sonoma County currently has two MACs – one for Dry Creek (west of Healdsburg) and another for Mark West. By the time this article is in print, two more Sonoma County MACs will likely have been voted in by the Supervisors to serve the Lower Russian River and the Coast. Another one is being considered for the Sonoma Valley’s Springs Community.
Because the communities served by MACs run the gamut from small to large, poor to affluent, rural to semi-urban, there is a wide variety in the structure and operation of MACs. Advisory Councils in Sonoma County have anywhere from five to nine members appointed by their supervisor. State law also allows for the election of MAC members. Advisory Councils typically hold monthly meetings. The county often covers the cost of a secretary to record the minutes and may provide further assistance.
MAC members are subject to many of the laws which govern elected officials, in particular the Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in the meetings of government boards and other entities. MAC members are restricted from privately meeting or communicating about issues before the council.
In developing bylaws for a local MAC, the Forum’s Advisory Council Exploratory Committee began to see advantages in a partnership with Kenwood (the working draft of the bylaws calls out the Eldridge community as well). While different in many ways, Glen Ellen, Eldridge and Kenwood share many concerns and challenges: e.g. fire recovery and resilience; tourism impacts; traffic; and lack of affordable housing. Community crossover already exists, for example in the coverage and distribution of the Kenwood Press, the Rotary Club, and the attendance of Glen Ellen students at the Kenwood School. While still being considered, coming together under a single MAC also has the advantage of drawing from a larger pool of people to serve on the council.
On Oct. 2, members of the Advisory Council Exploratory Committee will be meeting with Susan Gorin to review and get feedback on the draft bylaws proposed by the committee. There are many unknowns in this unfolding process and the bylaws will likely see some revision from this first draft. A number of public meetings are planned to educate residents about the possibility of forming a MAC.
The first public presentation and discussion on Municipal Advisory Councils will be given at the Valley of the Moon Alliance meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. at the Kenwood Depot in Kenwood. All residents of Eldridge, Glen Ellen, and Kenwood are invited to attend. Residents of Rancho Madrone, just south of Madrone Road, are also included within the boundaries of the proposed Advisory Council.
More follow-up meetings, with one or more in Glen Ellen, are being planned for later this year and possibly into 2019.