Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
City boards and commissions are not representative of San Antonio’s demographics, according to new data from the City of San Antonio Office of Equity presented Tuesday to the City Council’s Community Health and Equity Committee.
Women hold 18 percent fewer positions on City boards and commissions than their male counterparts, said Alejandra Lopez, the City’s chief equity officer. Additionally, although 64 percent of the city’s population identifies as Hispanic, just 36 percent of municipal board members identify as such.
City boards and committees advise and recommend policy to City Council on issues like affordable housing, the environment, and education. Anyone can apply to join a City board, commission, or committee. City Council approves appointments, and there is no limit to the number of boards on which a person can serve, with the exception of Ethics Review Board appointees.
Lopez said the Office of Equity plans to address the gaps in representation by targeting outreach to more women and people of color, promoting civic participation by making applications more visible and accessible, and training board and commission members on bias and social equity.
“Part of our approach is making sure people understand the value of service on boards,” Lopez said. “It’s important for the public to understand all the boards and commissions, and the roles that they play.”
Having members who represent different communities and perspectives is needed to create policy addressing a range of constituent experiences, said Assistant City Manager María Villagómez.
“Boards and commissions comprised of diverse perspectives better inform the city’s service delivery policies, and produce more equitable outcomes,” she said.
The Office of Equity assessed 86 City boards and committees for their representation in response to a Council Consideration Request (CCR) filed by Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) in January. Its purpose was to examine City board appointment processes, assess the diversity of past and current appointments, and recommend steps to achieve greater diversity.
“It’s about creating access and removing barriers,” Viagran said. “What this [CCR] will do will be a true reflection of all of San Antonio” on City boards and committees.
The Office of Equity found women and people of color are appointed to boards and commissions at similar rates to the percentages at which they apply, but women and Hispanics do not apply in proportion to their makeup of the San Antonio population.
For example, 40 percent of applicants to City boards and commissions are women, but women make up 51 percent of San Antonio’s population. Likewise, 40 percent of applicants are Hispanic, but 64 percent of the city’s population is Hispanic, according to the data.
Not included in the analysis were Tax Income Reinvestment Zone boards, which require members to be from a specific geographic area, Mayor-appointed boards, or boards comprising only city staff. The remaining 52 boards and committees were 54 percent male and 36 percent female, while 7 percent of members did not disclose their gender.
The equity office also reported that the ethnic makeup of City boards and commissions did not reflect the demographic breakdown of the city’s population. Thirty-two percent of current board members were white, compared to 25 percent of the overall population, indicating 7 percent overrepresentation, according to the data. The Hispanic population was underrepresented on existing boards and committees by 28 percent.
“It’s not just on the basis of skin color and gender that we ought to be looking but other traits, like age,” said Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8). “These boards are training rooms for future leaders.”
Technology may help improve application processes by not only making it easier to apply but also by identifying possible candidates, Lopez said. By consolidating City databases that hold information about volunteers for City events and programs for example, the City can create “a pool of people to invite to serve.”
Starting in October 2019, Lopez said the Office of Equity will make annual reports to City Council on its recruitment efforts and performance measures. It will also make quarterly reports to the Mayor and Council about progress towards a plan designed to help coordinate City departments on equity-related issues and goals.