Oct 5, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterThe Riverton City Council voted Tuesday to initiate four-year terms for volunteers serving on local boards and committees.
Before now, members of the city's planning commission, board of appeals, airport board and tree board were appointed to their positions every year. Now they will serve staggered, four-year terms, with no limit to the number of terms for which they can apply.
City administrator Steven Weaver said people also will be allowed to leave their posts "respectfully" before their terms are completed.
Officials said the change should encourage more participation in government.
"I think it will give people more opportunity to serve," Councilman Rich Gard said. "Maybe we'll have more people in our meetings and interested in what we're doing."
Councilman Lars Baker pointed out that the move will provide for more longevity on the boards, because members will have committed to serve four years. Previously, an elected mayor had the option to remove all board members and replace them with a new group of people every year.
Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen was the only representative to vote against the change, which she said was not necessary.
"If it's not broke, don't fix it," Christensen said. "I just don't see a reason for this."
She asked how many citizens regularly apply to be part of city boards.
"That's how this got started," Weaver said. "We had one or two (applications) for the airport board."
Community development director Sandy Luers said the city advertises open positions on the planning commission every year, but there is seldom a strong response from the public. Spots on the other boards were advertised last year as well, according to public services director Bill Urbigkit.
"We don't have a lot of people beating down the door," he said. "Generally, if it comes down to it, we recruit people. ... We really have to solicit people to serve on those."
Gard said there is nothing wrong with asking residents to participate.
"Few of us would send in a letter saying, 'Please make me a member of the tree board,'" he said, adding that most people likely would take a turn if Mayor Ron Warpness personally requested their assistance.
Gard also speculated that four-year terms may encourage people to apply who previously had been wary of the responsibility, which has turned into a long-term commitment for some residents. Gard mentioned Howard Johnson, a resident who sat on the city's planning commission for decades, as well as other volunteers who have served for years.
"A lot of these guys are just doing it because they feel like no one else will," Gard said. "If that's the case, that's disappointing."
Weaver said Riverton's 11 planning commission members will serve four-year terms staggered every year.
"If we did it every two years like the council you could have six people leaving in one given year, which is not good," he explained.
The board of appeals contains seven members and an ex officio council member who sits in on meetings. Those people will serve four-year terms staggered every two years, as will members of the city's airport and tree boards.
The volunteers will be assigned their terms at first, Weaver continued, with some members given a full four years while others receive shortened terms to facilitate the staggering.
"We have to do that initially to start it off," Weaver said. "We'll draw straws."
He said open positions will be advertised every October, when people interested in serving on city boards can write a letter of intent to the sitting mayor.
"It would be up to the mayor to determine who's going to go off and who will be assigned," Weaver said.
As part of its vote to approve four-year terms, the council also officially added the airport board to the city code. Weaver said that formality had been overlooked in the past.
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