Melissa Meinzer, one of two media outlets to cover the planning meeting for the Mayor's new advisory council, has the scoop here. I found her take to be interesting, especially the follow up interviews with the Mayor's liaison Gary Van Horn and the Mayor's spokeswoman.
The idea for the council, Van Horn said in a later interview, germinated in January. No action was taken on it, he says, because “nobody was stepping up to the plate and holding the feet to the fire.” So Van Horn, who, as president of the Delta Foundation, a local LGBT business group, has cultivated a relatively close relationship with Ravenstahl, met with him about six weeks ago. “The mayor needed to fulfill his promise” of reaching out, Van Horn said. “We've seen in the last two years, he needs educated.” For instance, he says, the mayor, without someone directly explaining it to him, might not have understood that without domestic partnerships, loving partners of 20 years might be denied hospital visits to one another.
The council will be comprised of 8 to 10 actively involved members of the LGBT community. Preference will be given to city residents, Baginski said at the meeting, and city employees are eligible.
“The committee will create their own bylaws,” Van Horn said.
Other than that, the selection process is not clear.
Baginski said at the meeting that the applications, due Jan. 15, would be culled by herself, Van Horn and others in the mayor's office. But Van Horn said in a later interview “that was news to me”: He said he hadn't realized he'd be on the selection committee until Baginski mentioned it.
How council members will be chosen “will be the mayor's discretion,” Doven says. “I don't have any word on that.”
As to how Van Horn got to be the de facto liaison for the LGBT community, Doven says “that's sometimes how things get started, perhaps he had a relationship with the mayor. I know that [Van Horn] has expressed concern to the mayor and he's had dialogue with the mayor.”
Van Horn won't say if he plans to apply for a council spot himself: “That's to be determined. I want to see how this all pans out.”
At the meeting, Van Horn stated that he and others, including PA Human Relations Commission Chair Stephen Glassman, had met with the Mayor “earlier this year” to discuss this plan. Glassman has confirmed for me that he and local activists, Tara Reynolds, attended that meeting, but has not yet responded to my requests to confirm the other attendees.
After 40+ comments showed up on my blog post, the Mayor's office asked for my contact information. I have not yet heard from them and have no idea if they plan to answer my questions or not.
The inconsistencies around this whole plan are a bit troubling. Why is the Mayor so reluctant to have his people talk with the gay media? His Deputy Chief of Staff promised me, in front of 27 people, to answer my question about campaign contributions being revealed. She lied to me. In a public meeting. There has been no answer or attempt to answer that question. I'm a City resident and I should get a real answer, not have to read about it in the City Paper.
Let's talk for a moment about the campaign contributions. Yes, I want to know about contributions of substantial amounts of money, but I'm also interested in contributions that are smaller but still significant for the donor. If I give any elected official $50, it represents a big investment on the part of this social-work-salaried lesbian. It makes a statement about my alliances and my values and my personal support. The number of nominees for this committee that make donations of $500 and up are probably low. So, yes, Mayor Ravenstahl, it does matter if there are numerous individuals who supported you with modest amounts. And you should share that information unless you have something to hide. Period.
As I've said in previous posts, I think Gary does some good stuff for the community and I think there's nothing wrong with self-promotion to make himself the Mayor's go-to-guy on LGBT issues … after all, no one else was trying to be that person. But I think it is a violation of ethics for Gary to be part of the planning and nomination teams if he is considering submitting his name for the board. I think he should pick one or the other. If the Mayor wants Gary on his board, fine. Just ask him to pull out of the nomination process to keep things transparent and fair. That's not difficult. Make the process fair and transparent. And that's a decision both Gary and the Mayor can make as part of their commitment to build genuine trust and communication with the community. This is the point where self-interest should take a back seat to what's best for the community.
As for the “putting the feet to the fire” quote, there are several heads in this community that should roll over that one. This was initiated by other activists who have not taken responsibility for their actions. Gary is not the only player, he is the only one willing to be held somewhat accountable. That's ridiculous. He gets to deal with all the personal crap in the comments section while others sit back and say nothing. Shame on them. If there's even a remote possibility their names are submitted and I find out about it, all details will be forthcoming.
One other advantage to the new board is that you will get to read some other opinions in future City Paper articles, aside from Gary and myself!