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Participation levels up — but not diversity — on Minneapolis advisory panels

Nearly 500 Minneapolis residents serve on 50 groups that act as advisory panels to the City Council.

More Minneapolis residents are applying these days for membership on the city’s many boards and commissions, but the increased interest in serving has not increased diversity on those panels.

“The applicant pool has increased considerably,” said David Rubedor of the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, but he added, “The trend is not going in the right direction.”

Nearly 500 Minneapolis residents serve on 50 groups that act as advisory panels to the City Council. They include such relatively high-profile groups as the Planning Commission, Charter Commission and Heritage Preservation Commission.

The panels frequently attract citizens with special skills who devote hours of volunteer time conducting public hearings and debating the merits of an issue before it comes to the City Council.

The City Council authorized a diversity audit of the groups in 2009 and repeated the process this year.

In 2009, applications numbered slightly more than 200, compared with 2011, when applications more than doubled to nearly 500. The 2009 numbers showed minority members totaling 18 percent. That number, however, has dropped to 14 percent in 2012.

“It is a little bit discouraging that the diversity went down,” said Council Member Cam Gordon.

In 2010, the council changed the appointment process from a system with application deadlines scattered throughout the year to one with two deadlines, spring and fall.

“It is easier for residents to understand how the system works,” said Rubedor. “We need to do additional changes to attract more diversity.”

In Minneapolis, about 50 percent of the households are rental, yet nearly 90 percent of those serving on boards and commissions are homeowners.

Another measure of diversity is seen in income levels. The median household income in Minneapolis is $46,508 a year. About 20 percent of current members have household incomes at or below that median, with the remaining 80 percent above the median.

The diversity audit also measures gender makeup, education, age, disability and geographic location.

The survey also shows that the number of citizens currently serving on two or more groups has doubled to nearly 20 percent from 2009. The number serving on three panels also has nearly doubled.

“People should be rewarded for that,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who used the example of a citizen with a disability who brought special experiences to two panels. “We ask people to be on them because of special skills.”

“We clearly do not want to penalize or punish anybody for serving on multiple boards and commissions,” said Rubedor, but he pointed out that multiple memberships “limit the opportunities for others to participate.”

Participation in the diversity survey is not mandatory for panel members. In both 2009 and 2012, slightly more than 39 percent of the panel members participated.

“When I saw this report, it was a disappointment to me,” said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who added that those serving are “absolutely incredible volunteers.”

Rubedor and his staff were asked to review the current appointment guidelines and return in January with suggestions for increasing diversity.

First look at stadium

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority will be hosting an open house Thursday with several architecture firms “short-listed” to design the new Vikings stadium. The session will take place on the field of the Metrodome from 5 to 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public. Enter through Gate D.