BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A close vote staved off a move to eliminate seven current city boards and commissions that are non-functioning and to set term limits on the remaining boards.
After a lengthy discussion at Tuesday night’s city council meeting four of the seven city councilman voted to keep the structure as is.
An ordinance on its first reading would have started the process to remove seven city commissions including the Sister Cities Commissions, Band Commission, Construction Board, Cable Television Board, RSVP board, Catermole Cultural Commission, and Human Rights Commission.
City Manager David Varley said the moves are a good thing and should help streamline city commissions while better utilizing the volunteer residents serving on the boards, and hopefully generate more interest in the boards.
“This is a good thing. This is something that’s been discussed for a little while to try to improve the workings of the various boards and commissions,” Varley said “We’ve discussed term limits so that we don’t have somebody serving on a board for 20 years and we’re hoping that will encourage people to move from one board to another. One of the driving factors is that we always have trouble attracting people to boards.”
Varley said he hoped the move would streamline things a little bit and make the boards and commissions work better.
“One of the hopes is for cross pollination because we seem to have the same people on boards and hopefully some of those people will move to another board and bring that knowledge to another board. The other ones, there’s just no activity, haven’t been used, and there’s no sense to carry them on the books anymore,” Varley said.
Mayor Brad Randolph said the point was that the city wasn’t looking to eliminate them just to eliminate, that the boards either had no activity or no board members.
“In order to streamline things we we’re hoping to eliminate some of those that aren’t showing any activity or benefit to the city and capitalize on the ones that are. We hoped with the term limits that people wouldn’t feel obligated like they’re signing on for six years or something and that’s something we talked about before.”
But several city councilman said setting term limits may backfire and result in not having enough people to serve on the boards.
Councilman Mark Lair asked if the boards are able to look just outside the city limits for certain boards. Randolph said that was an option on some boards.
Councilmen Chad Cangas, Rusty Andrews and Travis Seidel all told the council that setting a limit could hurt some of the boards who have people with a lot of experience on the board and not only would the board lose that experience, but they could also lose members on the board that historically have been difficult to fill.
Cangas said the council would have to tell all the people that are on the end of that limit who have served more than two terms that they have to find a new board.
“I guess I’m not a fan of asking after two terms you’re done with that commission,” Cangas said. “I’d rather have the hard conversation of sorry you’re on the board for 40 years and maybe you’d like to try something else, rather then telling them, ‘Boy, you’ve done a really good job and we’d love to keep you but our hands are tied.”
Siedel said the city has a history of not having people lined up to run for office or volunteer for commissions.
Fort Madison resident Bob Morawitz, who’s also running for 2nd ward, said he was concerned that a two-term limit would make it more difficult to fill the board.
“Since all board members need approval by the mayor council, so if they’ve been on there for too long they could be not be approved the council, so I don’t know what the purpose of the term limits would be.”
Morawitz also said if the city is going to set term limits on the boards and commissions, then they should do the same for council as well.
Randolph said that has been discussed as well.
“I think by creating a term limit or by encouraging new people we’re not relying on the same people over and over again. You’ve got the same group doing and doing it so new people don’t come on,” Randolph said. “It should be everyone’s desire to bring new people on and move these other people to new boards and bring that experience with them.”
I think if you put terms limits even on the council, I think you’re forcing people to be pushed into those spots and generate interest. I think it would promote turnover and that’s good. The people are going to be involved,” said Councilman Chris Greenwald.
Andrews, Cangas, Seidel and Lair all voted against the limits and eliminating the board, while councilmen Kevin Rink, Brian Wright, and Greenwald all voted in favor of the ordinance, causing it to fail.
In other action,
- Mayor Randolph read a proclamation declaring October Domestic Violence Awareness month
- the council voted in favor of a $30,000 new camera surveillance system for city hall