Committee on Committees Proposal Merits Public Hearing

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Thursday May 22, 2014

When interim zoning expired earlier this year, questions arose about the future of the numerous, volunteer based committees formed during its time in play. Some wondered what would become of the citizen engagement and excitement that had fueled the committee agendas.  In order to examine and find a potential solution to this concern, City Manager Kevin Dorn formed a Committee on Committees task force with City Councilors Pat Nowak and Chris Shaw, and city staff members Ilona Blanchard, Todd Goodwin, Justin Rabidoux, Cathyann LaRose, Paul Conner, and Tom Hubbard. The results of the committee’s work along with a draft proposal were presented at the May 5 council meeting to mixed reviews.  

First, the proposal spoke to concerns regarding the committees disbanding and stated goals for the future. These included enhancing volunteerism, expanding committee oversight, reducing committee or volunteer burnout, clarifying jurisdiction, enabling more community based organizations, and staff efficiency. With these tenets in mind, the task force proposed a realignment of the more recently formed volunteer committees. Because some committees have a narrow focus, several would remain intact under this proposal, such as the City Charter Committee, the Pension Advisory Committee, and the Design Review Committee. The Board of Civil Authority, the Development Review Board, the Planning Commission, the Library Board of Trustees, and the Steering Committee would also remain unchanged. 

So, what would be different? This proposal replaces the standing committees with a combination of three umbrella committees (public lands, transportation, and community development), city sponsored community based organizations (CBO), and “friends” groups. The umbrella committees would be comprised of nine members appointed by the city council for three-year terms and would operate under bylaws provided by the council including a clear assignment of jurisdiction. 

In contrast, the CBOs and “friends” groups would be independent organizations that set their own agenda and operate under their own meeting structure. The current Energy committee would be an example of a proposed CBO since their work is largely project based and the task force thinks such bodies could “function more effectively and efficiently as CBOs.” As a CBO, the energy committee could raise money, pursue grants, and other types of financial support, facilitate its own contracting, and build membership.

Chris Shaw, who was a member of the committee task force, said he thought the proposal was a good start since there are clear lines of jurisdiction. Pat Nowak, also a member of the task force added that the umbrella committees would provide a broader spectrum of interests for volunteers than what is available now. This structure would allow individuals to come in and work on a short term project without having to make a large time commitment. 

Meaghan Emery thought it would be prudent to have the current committees review the proposal and offer their thoughts. “Let’s see how they think they can fit under these umbrellas and allow them to keep their current structure if they think that’s what’s best...I want to make sure the passion and expertise of these think tanks remains intact,” Emery said. Helen Riehle agreed that having current committee member as well as community feedback would be valuable.  

Members of the public voiced their concerns on the proposal as well. Rosanne Greco asked, “What is the purpose of these committees? Is the structure from the top down or bottom up? Do you want groups to do your bidding or do you want a think tank? If you want to continue citizen engagement, you have to find out what they want.”

John Dinklage added, “We need to sustain the focused energy and expertise...when you suggest the idea of quarterly meetings of these committees, it makes me think you don’t know how these committees work. The energy committee meets weekly...we need to hear from all committee members to find out what their needs are.”

After much conversation, the councilors agreed that a public hearing on the matter would be appropriate. The aim is to have the hearing in mid-June so that committee members have enough time to review the draft proposal and give feedback to the council.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent