The Bakersfield City Council largely followed the advice of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce and associated groups in selecting the makeup of a sales tax oversight committee Wednesday evening.
Of the nine members that will make up the committee, seven were recommended by the chamber, which worked with the Kern County Taxpayers Association, Bakersfield Association of Realtors, Bakersfield Police Officers Association and the Bakersfield International Association of Firefighters to come up with its own list of nominees.
"The Council chose extremely qualified members for the oversight committee tonight," Chamber President and CEO Nick Ortiz said in an email. "While we were pleased that a supermajority of the appointees aligned with our nominees, we are most excited that the committee can now be seated and get to work."
Before the vote, Ortiz said the group of business and public safety organizations worked to put forward a diverse group of candidates for the oversight committee, officially called the Bakersfield Public Safety/Vital City Services Measure Citizens Oversight Committee.
The committee will review how the city spends the $50 million it expects to raise annually from the 1 percent sales tax increase narrowly passed by voters in November.
A yearly report will detail spending that the committee will review, and the committee will be able to make recommendations to the council on how the city should spend its sales tax money.
The city portrayed the committee as a key level of transparency for the sales tax increase. Some city residents did not think the city would spend the extra money as it said it would, and the oversight committee helped to combat those perceptions.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the council selected CEOs and presidents of prominent local companies and nonprofits, as well as people associated with law enforcement and labor unions.
“We cannot afford for this oversight committee to look like it’s amateur hour,” said City Councilman Andrae Gonzales. “We need the best and brightest.”
As far as city officials can tell, no other city committee has seen so many people apply.
A total of 87 people submitted applications for the nine spots on the committee, although the city eliminated five applicants who lived outside of Bakersfield.
“Clearly people have a heart for our community, they care deeply about our community,” Mayor Karen Goh said at the meeting. “We very, very much appreciate this.”
Of the people voted onto the committee, four said they were connected in some way to the chamber in their applications, while two said they were associated with KernTax and the Realtors association, respectively.
At least one member of the public expressed concern over the selections made by the council.
“What I wanted was true diversity and representation,” said insurance agent Mary Helen Barro, a former candidate for Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s seat in Congress who also unsuccessfully applied to be on the committee. “I really, really am disappointed that there are not more women on there.”
Committee members were appointed to three-year terms. The committee will meet on an as-needed basis at least twice per year.
They will hold public meetings to receive public comments and discuss with city staff spending priorities for the sales tax revenue.
There will be no compensation for the members of the committee.