City government isn’t a military organization, but for purposes of filling certain positions Mount Airy officials have decided in recent days to stick with a draft-type system as opposed to a volunteer “army.”
The city commissioners had voted unanimously during a July 20 meeting to explore a new process for appointing members to various advisory boards and commissions that are under the municipal government umbrella. This includes such entities as the Mount Airy Appearance Commission, Library Board, Historic Preservation Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and others.
Officials’ intent was to make sure appointees represent all parts of Mount Airy and different walks of life, while also possessing expertise or interest in the issues dealt with by particular groups.
When a proposed new board and commission appointment/reappointment policy was considered at a council meeting last Thursday, it was not warmly embraced by board members — who ended up voting to table the measure 5-0.
The proposal was highlighted by a provision calling for upcoming vacancies among the various groups to be advertised by notices placed in the Municipal Building and announcements on the city’s website and through social media.
It sought to require persons interested to apply for those positions, a concept that immediately drew the disapproval of Commissioner Jon Cawley at last Thursday’s meeting.
“That’s a terrible way to approach this,” Cawley said of a system in which prospective members would not be considered for appointment by the commissioners unless they applied.
He acknowledged that someone showing interest in a committee or advisory board can be a good thing, but doesn’t tell the whole story.
“To me, that’s not the best indicator of their willingness,” said Cawley, who pointed out that many people have served on groups with distinction who did not go through an application process. Someone might be willing to serve, but simply won’t devote the time and energy to actually apply — especially busy persons already involved with other functions, he said.
“They’re not running around filling out applications looking for something else to do.”
Commissioner Steve Yokeley agreed with Cawley.
“I can see where a lot of people wouldn’t want to fill out an application and go to that trouble,” Yokeley said.
“There are so many potential problems with this,” Cawley said of the proposed policy. “This does not need to pass.”
Cawley cited one of the potential issues.
“What would happen if we had one applicant who was a contrarian?” he said of an individual who applies for a commission just because he or she dislikes what it has been doing, and only wants to disrupt or destroy that group. “And (this) results in a lot of people resigning.”
Leave well enough alone
“It’s another situation where the way we were doing it was OK,” Cawley said of the procedure that now is managed by Mayor David Rowe. It typically involves appointees being identified through word of mouth and recruited or “drafted” to serve, in addition to other less-formal means than prescribed in the proposed policy.
Cawley added that despite its well-intended approach, he doesn’t think the plan as drafted would create a change for the better. “So I’m not going to vote for this.”
“Don’t try to fix it if it ain’t broke,” Commissioner Dean Brown concurred. “That’s kind of how I feel about it right now.”
“The mayor needs to use whatever process the mayor uses and bring it to us,” Cawley said of board members, who then have the option of approving or rejecting appointees.
Cawley made the motion to table the proposal, which passed unanimously.
Broadening the pool
Although the board’s action effectively means the appointment process will remain as is, there was support among the commissioners and mayor for seeking a wider array of would-be members.
“I think our committees should represent our community, and right now they don’t,” Cawley said.
Both Mayor Rowe and Commissioner Jim Armbrister said some way is needed to get more people involved.
Armbrister says there are many folks who could contribute through service on one of the groups, but “have no clue” about how to pursue their interest. He wants to find a solution that will bridge the gap and better allow such persons to do so.
“Just give people the opportunity to volunteer,” Cawley suggested, “but we’re not limiting ourselves to that volunteer list.”