Lodi city government has a good track record — prudent with our money, free of major scandal and generally responsive to citizens.
But it’s clear, based on our coverage in recent weeks, that Lodi city government has a challenge: The elected and appointed aren’t as diverse as the community.
As staff writer Christina Cornejo pointed out in our special report on Latino leadership, Lodi has never had a council member whose family traces back to Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean.
There have been 70 council members since the city’s incorporation in 1906. According to U.S. Census figures, Latinos, largely people tracing their roots to Mexico, comprise 36 percent of our community now.
And yet few have run and none has been elected to the council.
The lack of diversity is not just ethnic. In other coverage, we’ve pointed out that women are underrepresented in Lodi’s appointed ranks, too. For example, men outnumber women on Lodi boards and commissions, 39 to 17. Only five women have served on the council.
Our coverage in this area was sparked by comments from councilwoman JoAnne Mounce and a letter to city officials from Marilyn Hughes. She applied for a spot on the Recreation Commission but was passed over.
“The absolute lack of concern for a female voice to speak up for the needs of women and girls (on the Recreation commission) is intolerable,” wrote Hughes.
The Lodi City Council election last November reflected the status quo. There were six white male candidates and Alan Nakanishi, who is Asian.
So Lodi has a challenge. What are the options?
We’re reminded of the candidate forum last November when a member of the audience forwarded the question: How would you promote more diversity on the City Council?
It was a tough question, probably somewhat unexpected, but entirely relevant.
The answers were tentative and at least one candidate said, quite honestly, that he didn’t know — he’d have to reflect on the issues.
Maybe more reflection isn’t a bad idea, and more discussion. After all, we are aren’t going to have a council or set of commissions that’s more diverse next week or next month.
Here are some questions that might nudge discussion and move Lodi in a positive way:
- Can the city do more to promote openings on city boards and commissions. Can these be posted more prominently on the city’s website? Can information of such openings be shared more widely, perhaps with special attention given to notifying groups that might suggest female applicants or applicants of color?
- Can the News-Sentinel play a role in helping publicize these openings? Frankly, we’ve often treated these openings as yawners, worthy of an inch or two, buried on inside pages among other shorts. We can and should give these openings, their job descriptions and the appointees, a higher priority.
- Should the appointments to boards and commissions be made by the mayor alone, with council approval? Or should the city consider a screening committee, a committee that’s more reflective of the city as a whole, to forward recommendations to the entire council? Surely holding sway over committee and commission appointments is part of the mayor’s traditional role in Lodi. But is there a better way?
- Can Lodi groups, from service clubs to churches and fraternal organizations, become more proactive in promoting diverse candidates?
- Can local schools be involved? Is there a role for government classes to visit the Carnegie Forum to see the council, the planning commission and other advisory boards in action? If students of all backgrounds see how government works, would they see that they, too, might sit at the council dais one day?
- Is it time to revisit district elections in Lodi? Other jurisdictions have adopted a district system, sometimes under legal pressure, sometimes not. Lodi Unified School District switched to district elections a few years back. Those jurisdictions that have adopted districts appear to have achieved higher levels of inclusivity.
We certainly don’t have a monopoly on ideas here. Members of the community no doubt have many — probably better — suggestions than these.
Isn’t it time to seek out the good ideas here?
Isn’t it time for the discussion on diversity in Lodi, a delicate but critical topic, to begin in earnest?