Thursday June 19, 2014
A proposal to reconfigure the structure of citizen-based city committees brought a number of residents to City Hall for a public hearing June 16.
With the expiration of interim zoning earlier this year, the future of committees which had been formed to explore IZ related issues came into question. A Committee on Committees task force was created by City Manager Kevin Dorn to explore the disbanding of these committees and to investigate the structure and reorganization of other long-standing volunteer committees moving forward. City Councilors Pat Nowak and Chris Shaw served on the task force along with city staff members Ilona Blanchard, Todd Goodwin, Justin Rabidoux, Cathyann LaRose, Paul Conner and Tom Hubbard.
Last month the task force made the recommendation to replace the standing committees with a combination of three umbrella committees (public lands, transportation, and community development), city sponsored community based organizations (CBOs), and “friends” groups. The umbrella committees would be comprised of nine members appointed by the city council for three year terms, meet quarterly, and operate under bylaws provided by the council with clear assignment of jurisdiction. In contrast, the CBOs and “friends” groups would be independent organizations that set their own agendas and operate under their own meeting structure.
In attendance at the public hearing were residents and dedicated committee members ready to weigh in on the plan for reorganization. A number of written comments had already been received in advance of the meeting from individuals as well as the Planning Commission, the Bike/Ped Committee, the Open Space Committee, and Sustainable Agriculture; the hearing gave those who had not previously submitted comments an opportunity to express their views on the report.
Resident Sandy Dooley presented an outline of twelve suggestions/concerns regarding the report. She cited a need for clearly delineated responsibilities for city staff with reference to their work with committees, disagreement with the proposed disbanding of the Bike/Ped and Energy Committees, establishment of priorities tied into the comprehensive plan, and concern that committees could lose steam by only meeting quarterly.
Don Cummings, Chair of the Energy Committee provided advanced written comments to the council clearly outlining all of the grant opportunities the committee has captured for the city. He also reported on contributions overall to helping the city become more energy efficient, not the least of which has been the pursuit of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. “Where will we find the time to re-organize and still work on the prize?” Cummings asked, “We have identified community partners for the energy prize. How will this re-organization be interpreted by the community at large if they don’t feel the city is behind them?” Cummings proposed that the energy committee remain intact at least until the work toward the prize is completed in 2017.
The comments from the public shared common themes of concern regarding the loss of volunteer expertise, passion, and citizen engagement by eliminating certain committees.
After the public hearing was closed, councilors had the opportunity to offer comments. Meaghan Emery said she understood the need for staff time to be managed more effectively, but also knows that when one moves hastily to make a decision, something is lost in the process. “There’s something to be said for the system of check and balances,” Emery said, “It would be unwise to disband, especially the energy committee.”
Chris Shaw commented that many thoughtful observations had been expressed, and that Sandy Dooley’s recommendations were “sensible and cogent.” Helen Riehle expressed concern that some committee expertise could be lost by creating three large committees and that the new process could in fact take more staff time since small, grassroots experts wouldn’t be doing as much work on issues.
Pam Mackenzie said, “It’s difficult to make change and I have taken the comments as instructional and informative. I have sought out community feedback as well. I think it’s the responsibility of the council to set priorities, but I believe these committees can also set some of their own. I’m not enamored of bureaucracy.” To that end, Mackenzie said she would work with staff to collect and categorize the comments which will be used as the basis for a conversation going forward. These notes will be sent to committees in advance of a work session to be scheduled for a Saturday in the near future.
You can find the complete Committee Task Force report at www.sburl.com under the committees/agendas/minutes tab. Then click on Task Force on Committee Organization.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent