Resolutions: How the League Makes Policy
by Yvonne Hunter
Yvonne Hunter is a legislative representative for the League and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have an idea for a new policy direction for the League? Do you want to get cities informed and energized about a particular issue? Is there a late-breaking issue that needs attention? You — or your city, division, department or policy committee — can take that idea and sponsor a resolution based on it. Of course, this doesn’t mean that any half-baked policy idea will suddenly become new League policy. Successful resolutions have a compelling statewide municipal impact.
The Basic Process
The League’s annual conference resolutions process is the quintessential example of grassroots democracy in action. Resolutions must meet an introduction deadline and are then distributed to all cities. At the annual conference, they are thoroughly analyzed and debated by one or more League policy committees and the General Resolutions Committee. Then if they are approved by the General Resolutions Committee (other actions can be taken to amend and/or disapprove, take no position or refer back to a policy committee for additional study), they are debated and acted on by the general membership of the League at the Annual Business Meeting during the conference.
Each city has one vote at the General Assembly, which is held during the Annual Business Meeting. Each city council may designate one voting delegate and one alternate prior to the conference. These individuals must be registered to attend the conference and must sign in at the voting delegate table in the registration area to be eligible to vote on each resolution being considered by the General Assembly.
Debate at the conference is open and often exciting. While public comment at policy committees is open to anyone — city officials and non-city officials — debate at the General Resolutions Committee and Annual Business Meeting is generally limited to city officials only, although exceptions are made in special circumstances.
The General Resolutions Committee consists of representatives from each League division, department and policy committee, as well as other individuals appointed by the League president. The committee is traditionally chaired by the League’s second vice president, aided by the League parliamentarian, who is appointed by the League president.
The League bylaws allow resolutions to be introduced at the annual conference to address late-breaking issues. In order to qualify, a petitioned resolution must be signed by registered voting delegates representing 10 percent of the League member cities (48 is the magic number in 2006). If you’ve ever wondered why so many people are seen hovering around the voting delegate table at the conference, this is the reason. Resolution-savvy city officials know that a great place to get signatures to qualify a petitioned resolution is near the voting delegate table. Please note the operative word is “near,” not “at,” because crowding at the table detracts from the ability of League staff to properly assist city officials registering as voting delegates.
How Do Resolutions Really Impact League Policy?
Do resolutions really make a difference? Or are they filed away each year only to gather dust after decades? The simple and truthful answer is yes; they are used to guide League policy, and they do make a difference. Consider these examples.
Several years ago, some city officials were unhappy with the existing resolution procedure that seemed to result in many good resolutions stalling in the General Resolutions Committee and never making it to the Annual Business Meeting and a vote by the General Assembly. That was because only those resolutions approved by the General Resolutions Committee are sent forward to the General Assembly. These city officials sponsored a resolution to remedy this problem. The resulting new process, adopted by a resolution, changed the system so that any resolution approved by the policy committee (or committees) to which it was assigned, but not approved by the General Resolutions Committee, still moves ahead to the Annual Business Meeting on a separate agenda. At the meeting, the voting delegates can decide if they wish to consider the measure or abide by the action taken by the General Resolutions Committee.
In 2005, the League adopted a resolution, introduced by a division, regarding “green” buildings. The goal of the resolution was to encourage cities to consider adopting voluntary green building standards and ask the state to take a leadership role in providing guidance and information to cities about voluntary green building activities that cities can undertake. When AB 2898 (Laird-Lieu) was introduced in 2006, the League was ready to participate, based upon the adoption of the 2005 resolution. AB 2898 would require the state to develop, adopt and make available voluntary green building guidelines for residential construction. In fact, the League’s letter of support on the bill included a reference to the resolution text, and the legislation itself is based in part on the ideas included in the resolution. Thus, the resolution has helped frame the debate in the California Legislature and guided League staff on lobbying and negotiating for the League on the bill. For an update on the status of AB 2898, visit www.cacities.org and click on “Bill Search.”
Many years ago, one League division introduced a successful resolution directing the League to sponsor legislation that would add cities to the governing board of air pollution control districts or air quality management districts that do not already include city representation. The League sponsored the legislation, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. City officials now serve on virtually every air pollution control district in the state as a direct result of that resolution.
More on the Process
For more information on the League’s annual conference resolution process, visit the League website (www.cacities.org) and view the annual conference program online (www.cacities.org/ac). Both include information about deadlines, when and where policy committees will meet to consider the resolutions assigned to them, when and where the General Resolutions Committee will meet, when the Annual Business Meeting is held and how last year’s adopted resolutions were implemented.