2011 Boards and Commission openings offer opportunity for citizen involvement in local government

An Asheville City Council meeting may be the big event for those who follow local government, but meetings of council’s boards and commissions offer plenty of opportunity to participate in crafting city policy. 2011 will see seats becoming available on a wide variety of those boards and commissions, (click here for a PDF of upcoming openings) and the city is encouraging anyone with expertise or interest to apply.

More than 250 people serve on 34 council-appointed boards and commissions, bodies that consider and make recommendations to council on city policy. The boards cover topics from a catch-all of subjects: from the Public Art Board to the Recreation Board to the Riverfront Redevelopment Commission, there is probably a board that appeals to anyone’s interests.

Tapping into that community input is a big priority for the City of Asheville, says City Clerk Maggie Burleson, because council relies the experience and recommendations of the public to make decisions.

You do have a voice and we want to know what it is,” Burleson says. “I can’t express enough how important citizen involvement is. Council can’t do it without these boards.”

Council Boards and Commissions aren’t new: the oldest of the group include the Fireman’s Relief Fund established in 1907, followed by the the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1921. And the list continues to grow as needs evolve within the City of Asheville. Recent years have seen the appointment of a Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment and a Soil Erosion/Stormwater Review Committee.

With so many advisory bodies, seats frequently come up for consideration. To fill those seats, Burleson sends out regular announcements of upcoming board vacancies. The city’s tools to get the word out have ranged from bus advertisements to the publication of the regular “Talent Scout” brochure and most recently, spreading the word through online social media tools.

Board and Commission applicants are interviewed by Asheville City Council, then selected by vote in a public forum. Typically, board members serve three-year terms. And hopefuls don’t have to wait until a vacancy is announced. Applications can be submitted at any time and are held for a year. Applications can also be downloaded from the city’s website.

Vacancies occur all the time,” Burleson says. “Go ahead and apply even if there isn’t an opening.”

Public comment at Council meetings is a valuable tool for citizen input, but the issues that people care about have lives before they appear at Council meetings, Burleson notes. They often start in boards and commissions, and even attending those meetings can help inform and influence policy recommendations.

Asheville Vice Mayor Brownie Newman, who chairs council’s Boards and Commissions Committee, notes the importance of the recommendations that come out of those bodies, and points out that even attending the commission meetings gives citizens a chance to get in on an issue long before it gets to City Council.

“Citizen participation and leadership on our boards and commissions is a vital part of the community decision making process,” Newman says. “We strongly encourage citizens in Asheville to be involved with our boards and commissions, either by directly serving on them or by attending and participating in their meetings.”

To receive regular notifications of board and commission vacancies, contact City Clerk Maggie Burleson at 259-5601 or mburleson@ashevillenc.gov.

Click here to download a PDF of the upcoming boards and commission vacancies for 2011.

Click here to see a PDF of the most recent edition of the “Talent Scout” brochure.