The Columbus City Council and Lowndes County Board of Supervisors don”t handle the city business alone. Along with city and county employees, they rely on a dedicated group of volunteers, staffing various boards such as the tree board, airport board and county comprehensive planning board.
During the rest of the year, the city and county will make about a half a dozen appointments to local boards, as member terms expire.
The most immediate appointment will be by the City Council to the Columbus Housing Authority. Gretta Gardner”s four-year term expires on July 13.
At times, it can be a challenge to fill vacant seats on city- and county-appointed boards, which widely are volunteer, with three exceptions.
“It”s hard to get anyone to be on any boards. The qualified people don”t have the time to do it (or) they don”t want to be involved in it,” said Harry Sanders, president of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.
Lowndes County spends $200-$300 on advertising to publish each board vacancy. Usually, the search produces one or two applicants. The city of Columbus spends $193 per vacancy on advertising.
“It”s kind of embarrassing. You advertise it for two weeks, you think about it for two weeks, and you only get one applicant,” Sanders said, attributing the trend partly to the nature of serving on a public board.
“People don”t want to make the hard decisions, and being on a board you”ve got to make decisions, it”s responsibility. That makes some people uncomfortable,” he said.
The Community Counseling board, for example, handles mental health for a seven-county area; Lowndes County has one appointee. The board oversees a $27 million budget and 300-plus employees, a responsibility that may be intimidating to some, Sanders said.
“This day and time, it”s always a challenge to find people who are interested and willing to devote the time,” said David Armstrong, chief operating officer for the city of Columbus.
The number of applicants varies, he said, noting sometimes they can have more than six applicants for the same position and need to “make a tough decision.” Other times, they have to ask around the community.
“Some boards, it”s just difficult to get people to serve on,” said Columbus Mayor Robert Smith. “Some of them, when we start taking resumes, you get numerous applications.”
For Columbus, the City Utilities Commission and the Municipal Election Commission are popular because they offer incentives.
Each month, the five Utilities Commission members are paid $300, as determined by the City Council, and receive about $450 for individual health insurance from Columbus Light and Water. Election commissioners are paid $84 a month.
(The Columbus Municipal School District board of trustees is the only other city- or county-appointed board to receive incentives. Each board member gets a $200-a-month stipend, from the school district.)
Other city boards, such as the Historic Preservation Commission are not so easily filled.
“It”s probably the hardest to retain membership on,” Smith said. “I guess you step on so many toes, concerning the process.”
In the city”s historic district, certain requirements have to met before building, and in some cases, demolishing. Those matters go before the Historic Preservation Commission.
“The 911 board is kind of a tough board to get somebody to do,” Sanders said. “The main reason is they don”t understand what it”s about. You have to deal with the police department, sheriff”s department, all the emergency services, and a lot of people are intimidated by it.”
The 911 board is one of a handful of boards with appointments from both the city and county. Most require no special qualifications, but knowledge of the subject matter is a plus in boards dealing with specific matters.
Lowndes County was fortunate in 2009 when it made an appointment to the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library board. Vera Myers, a retired Lowndes County schools librarian, applied for the position. Usually, qualified applicants are hard to find.
“How many people in the county know about libraries and how you get books and how to read the Dewey Decimal System, things like that?” Sanders asked, offering the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau as another board where certain knowledge bases are important.
“There”s designated slots that you have to be in the restaurant business or the hotel business, that kind of thing, but most (boards), you don”t have to have any requirements,” he said.
Many appointments have been “politically driven,” a practice Sanders condemned, though he thinks the current supervisors have done a good job in preserving the integrity of board appointments.
“In my mind, that”s not why you should appoint someone to a board. Most of our boards right now, are highly qualified,” he said. “We have tried to get someone with knowledge and expertise … I think most of the county”s appointments have been very well thought out.”
Aside from the Columbus Housing Authority, other upcoming board appointments are as follows:
n City Utilities Commission (city of Columbus): Tom Sneed”s term expires June 30.
n North Central Regional Railroad Authority (Lowndes County): David Darby”s term expires Sept. 30.
n The Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau (city of Columbus and Lowndes County): Two positions, one to represent the restaurant industry, to be appointed by the Columbus City Council, and one at-large to be jointly appointed by the mayor and Board of Supervisors president will be appointed in the coming months, as a result of restructuring the board.
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