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We provided feedback to Bellingham about its proposed advisory group standards

Dear Mayor Lund,

We appreciate the city’s efforts to set standards for advisory groups and believe the Expectations of City Advisory Groups document (pages 4-6 of City Council’s April 8, 2024 agenda packet) could set the stage for success of any volunteer advisory group member.

We agree with most of the thoughtful suggestions council members provided during their April 8, 2024 meeting. Specifically, we would like advisory groups to have flexibility on when they can provide recommendations to city staff, the city to expand authority for appointing new members, and for city staff or a council member liaison to participate in advisory group meetings, when members request their presence.  

We believe, however, the document falls short in describing what a volunteer can expect from the city. As we listened to the meeting, we learned the city had prepared this document after surveying members from one advisory group. We recommend the city expand its inquiry to all advisory groups to ensure it captures various group experiences. 

Based on our observations of communication breakdowns between the city and the Immigration Advisory Board (IAB), we would like the city to consider modifying the document to include the following:

  1. Description for how the city will communicate about, and respond to, a group’s recommendations or request for information so volunteers can learn, adapt, and be effective in their work. During the previous administration, the Mayor’s Office failed to respond at all or within a timely manner, as documented in the January 29, 2024 City Council Agenda Packet.
  2. Timeline for how quickly the city will appoint a new member, or respond to an applicant, after receiving a new member application. During the previous administration, the city failed to review applications in a timely manner when vacancies remained open and applications had been submitted by individuals recommended by the IAB.
  3. Recommendation for the city to seek input from an advisory board during the application review process. Members often have a personal relationship with an applicant and, therefore, know who may fit in well and have a vested interest in the topic. 
  4. Flexibility for volunteers if they are providing a service or function not completed by the city. For example, the IAB evaluates compliance with the Keep Washington Working (KWW) Act, which the City does not assess on its own. The city attorney has pointed to the police department’s policies as a method of assuring compliance with the KWW, however, third-party evaluators are best for evaluating individual and department practices, as documented by the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights.

We also agree with Jace Cotton’s recommendation for the City to clearly describe how it wants each group to impact the city’s work. We believe these “charters” would be strengthened with feedback from the advisory groups. 

We look forward to seeing the next version of the Expectations of City Advisory Groups.


Riveters Collective