Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Art of Committee Guesting

Thanks to scheduling, if there's a Single Adults Committee meeting for the CEHKC some Monday, that same Wednesday there's a CAC meeting. CAC is the Consumer Advisory Council, and instead of token consumers who have no power because they are permanently a fractional minority of their committee, they are the whole committee (less the facilitation), so they have power galore, for their two hours per month that they meet, within that room.

One does wonder how that power is conveyed up the ranks to the higher committees. I keep hearing that the higher-ups are listening and responding to the CAC's suggestions. Bill Block, the big Project director of the whole shebang and who's been the facilitator of the CAC meetings, has said so many times. I wouldn't know about it much because I always fade out when the subject comes up.

Anyway, the CAC meetings are cooler than the Single Adult Committee meetings. There's pizza. There's Bill Block. There's actual passionate arguments, with raised voices, instead of mumbling deferential professional courtesies all around. After all, to the members of the CAC, it is, as I often say about my involvement at Real Change, personal. I'm not a member and only have guest status each month, so I can only speak during public commenting periods, but it's those constraints of the art form that make it both challenging and fulfilling to me, as an artiste.

This month the only comment I had at the beginning, after inhaling two slices, was to ask if anyone knew how realistic was the rumor I was hearing that those who won the new Section 8 Voucher lottery would have to endure an eight year waiting list.

Lucky me, a representative of the King County Housing Authority was right there to tell me that no, for the folks who win the lottery, it'll be only two years at the most.

Turns out there's an entirely understandable explanation for the rumor. You see if there weren't a lottery, the waiting Time would be eight years. The lottery cuts the pool of applicants by a factor of more than four, so the waiting time, for THOSE people, the winners, drops to less than two years. The waiting time for the losers is now certain to be eternity, because it's been confirmed that they really are losers. They can apply to the next lottery in two or three years, but they'll only lose that one, too, they're losers.

Well, cool. That settled, they went on and had the meeting, while I was quiet and tried very hard to listen. Fading in and out as I do.

They woke me up twice. Once, when one of the members went off on a tirade about too frequent public housing inspections. He was sitting next to Bill Block and pounded the table so violently Bill had to lunge to save his water from spilling. That was funny. The guy was particularly mad because Liberal Congressman Jim McDermott didn't answer his letter about it, and "that goes to show why I'm a conservative."

The other time they got my attention was when we were told that the Governing Board, the highest level committee, would let a new one of the members of CAC to join it's August Body. All CAC needed to do was nominate precisely three members for the position and the Governing Board would decide for them which of the three would be selected to represent them, except in the unlikely event all three nominees were unacceptable, in which case the CAC would be permitted to make additional nominations.

Let's put this in perspective. We're talking about a committee that now consists of 22 heavy hitters, including various current and former mayors, major corporate hotshots like Blake Nordstrom, a former governor, influential members of the faith community, and currently one "Consumer Advocate" (Sheila Sebron), and in contemplating allowing another "Consumer Advocate" from the ranks of CAC, the notion that CAC might choose their own representative is just too radical?

Why? Is it that one token consumer advocate on a committee of 23 occasionally speaking up is barely tolerable, and that a second one would have to be certified dead or at least comatose before being allowed to disrupt the Governing Board's very important process of deciding everything without any input from the people most affected?

I didn't have time during the final public comment period to express that thought, so instead I said, I too am angered by the outrageous too frequent inspections in public housing (my room is invaded by inspectors 13 times a year), and I'm even a liberal, and if the Governing Board is going to tell the CAC who will represent them, the CAC should insist on giving the Governing Board the information they need to make the best choice.

If I were a member of CAC I would propose that we give them three nominees and inform them which one they pick or else the CAC quits en masse and the charade is ended. No more pretending that homeless people are sharing in the process and that they support it.

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