Thursday, October 15, 2015

Superficial Record Editorial on City Board Service Ignores Conflict of Interest -- Why Not Elect Our Boards?

Editorial: An alternate scheme for volunteer boards
Posted: October 15, 2015 - 4:56pm
Volunteer boards play a vital role local governments. In the city they’re the watchdogs of both our quality of life and historic integrity. And, it seems they’re facing some trouble. The Record wrote about the issue Wednesday in a story titled “Local boards struggle to keep members.”
The gist was that citizen volunteers are having a tougher time making time to serve, as the issues these boards tackle become more complex and agendas get longer. Their jobs have also become more stressful as issues become increasingly controversial. In short, they’re taking flak from the public — at times from newspapers, too. It’s a thankless job at best — intimidating at its worst.
In our city, the big three are the Code Enforcement, Adjustments and Appeals Board, the Historical Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Zoning Board. But there are others that get less press and less pressure. These include the Lincolnville Community Redevelopment Area Steering Committee, the Parking and Traffic Committee and the Storm Water Advisory Committee. There are also boards of trustees for employee, firefighter and police retirement and pension funds and systems.
HARB is tasked with guarding the integrity of the vast store of historic properties we’re fortunate to have. The rule book is thick. The definition of “historic” is a moving target powered by time. If you own a home that’s 50 years old, odds are, and depending upon its architectural style, it could be considered historic today — or may soon be. And basically, once it’s on the list, owners lose a lot of say in how homes are altered in the future. Further, there’s a fine line between “historic” and “ramshackle.” That’s causing more and more problems as properties continue to age either gracefully or tragically.
The PZB’s job is to protect the character of the town — what can and can’t occur and where. Neighborhoods are sancrosanct. Planned Unit Developments are the new buzzword, but only one of the many controversies with which board members have to deal.
The thinning of the ranks of citizens willing to volunteer is a problem in the long run. But it’s manifesting itself in the short run as well. Just this week, HARB had to reschedule a meeting because it couldn’t fill a quorum. That doubles the workload for the next meeting, and pushes back the plans of applicants already in a long process of reviews.
Three former members of HARB and/or the PZB were quoted in our story — John Valdes, Jeremy Marquis and Grant Misterly. All spoke of their former work with pride of accomplishment and in community service. The knowledge and depth of experience of this trio is deep.
We wonder if the city (and the county) might not ask former members of the respective boards if they would consider forming a pool of alternates — temps, if you will. They would be asked to serve in case of emergency — such as a lack of a quorum. They have the background and credentials, and could quickly come up to speed on the agenda items. It would speed up an already (and, for the most part, necessarily) tedious permitting process, and release the backlog of pressure at the next meeting.
We know all three of these guys and several more former board members. Most are just as active in the community as ever — and just as committed to it. It’s a pretty good bet the city would get some takers. If they’re tentative, guilt them.
And, perhaps having a former member sit in from time to time might put new eyes on a project — seen from an older perspective of institutional memory. Didn’t someone say it’s easier to see where you’re going when you know where you’ve been?
Opinion Editor’s note: If you’re interested in service to a board, the city website has information on the duties and requirements of each online at Or call the city clerk’s office at 904-825-1007.

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