Have you noticed how often that word seems to be coming up these days? I checked my ever-trusty Ballentine’s Law Dictionary and learned that “independence is the state of being free from the control of another.”

It strikes me that it is impossible to know whether or not someone is independent of another person or an organization. It is essentially a personal characteristic and cannot be legislated. About the only way to measure it is to look at the person’s actions, but even that can be misleading.

For example, if Mary appoints John to a commission, is John independent of Mary? Once appointed, John may be perfectly willing to tell Mary to take a hike and never consult with her on anything. On the other hand, John may be one of those dependent personalities who ask for direction before each and every vote. It’s also reasonable that John might talk to Mary about a specific matter. If John then votes in a way that pleases Mary, does that make John dependent? Or did John simply arrive at his own answer which happened to be the same?

In looking at City Attorney Aguirre’s 21-point plan, I see that Point 8 suggests the composition of the city’s Retirement Board be changed so that there are seven “independent members.” Since these members would be appointed, Mr. Aguirre apparently believes that one can be appointed and yet be independent of those making the appointment. Maybe.

Supposedly, Point 8 corresponds to the original recommendation of the Pension Reform Committee (PRC). If, however, you actually read the PRC’s recommendation, you will find that the word “independent” doesn’t show up in it anywhere. What the PRC recommended was the absence of vested interests. In our opinion, those interests can be defined and then measured.

On that same topic, whoever said that being elected makes a person independent in and of itself? What if you are deeply indebted to an organization whose endorsement aided in your election? Are you independent of that organization or are you under their control? No clear answer. It depends on the person.

As we move into the Remediation Plan discussion of the next week or so, it might be a good idea to simply stop using the word “independent” in job descriptions and titles as though saying it makes it so. Absence of a vested interest is probably as good as it’s going to get.


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