Now recruiting: River Falls wants you!
How should a city go about recruiting the roughly 80 members that collectively comprise its 13 boards, committees and commissions?
The City Council started out discussing term limits, but at its last meeting, talked its way around to the need for a better system of staffing the 13 different bodies that sift through the detailed issues and make recommendations to the City Council.
Mayor Don Richards appoints the members, subject to the council's approval, but everyone agreed the process of finding those appointees could be better.
"Thankfully," he said, "a lot of (people)serve more than one term."
Council members decided they could and would easily make exceptions to the three-term limit.
The council also discussed how to go about filling the important committees well ahead of when someone's term expires. Optimally, the city would have a waiting list of people interested in serving on the various committees.
"There are not people calling me...," said Richards at the July 28 City Council meeting. "There are lots of boards and commissions, so we need a lot of people."
Council Member Joleen Larson agreed the city needs a more proactive approach to recruiting people. She said positions are harder to fill at the last minute.
"I just don't think we do a good job of seeking these people out," Larson said.
She suggested a system wherein the city would introduce the idea of membership to prospective members about six months ahead. She said people need ample time to think about and consider whether or not it fits their schedule.
The council decided that night to eliminate some requirements it created last year. Potential board/committee/commission members no longer need to submit a biography and resume, only a letter of interest.
The council also agreed to continue discussions about how best to staff those extended bodies of government and encourage diverse membership.
The city has 13 bodies that each direct the activities of a different city function:
The Ambulance Commission has six members who serve five-year terms. The Cable Advisory Committee has seven members who serve three-year terms.
The Board of Appeals has five members and two alternates who serve three-year terms. The Extraterritorial Board of Appeals has three members plus up to three representatives each from bordering towns; all serve "indeterminate" terms.
The Historic Preservation Commission has seven members who serve three-year terms. This body has specific membership requirements. For example it must include a historian and an architect.
The Library Board has eight members who serve three-year terms. The Park and Recreation Board has seven members who serve three-year terms.
The Plan Commission has nine members who serve three-year terms. The Police and Fire Commission has five members who serve five-year terms.
The Housing Authority has five members who serve five-year terms. The Utility Commission has seven members who serve six-year terms.
The Youth Advisory Council should have at least two members serving two-year terms but is neither an active committee nor officially dissolved.
Richards explained that some members are statutory, for example the city engineer must sit on the planning commission. At least one City Council member belongs to most of the boards/committees/commissions.
The mayor said the responsibility and process for recruiting good, new members is not a defined part of anyone's duties. Historically, the bulk of the staffing duty falls to Richards and the city's Deputy Clerk and Chief Executive Secretary, Kristi McKahan.
Other than that, discussion happens among the mayor, City Council members, the committee members themselves and the city department heads about upcoming vacancies and who might be a good fit for them.
McKahan said she circulates a booklet each April that lists the upcoming vacancies. She said River Falls posts openings on the City Hall bulletin board and on the city's website as well as using word of mouth.
After that notification, she said, city department heads and board/commission/committee heads "take it from there."
She said each one is governed by a different Wisconsin statute, so the requirements, terms and duties vary a bit from body to body. McKahan thinks it best for those interested in membership to first contact the city staff person associated with their committee of interest (see related sidebar).
These contact names are not listed on the city's Web site but may be in the future.
Most of the board/commission/committee members get paid $50 per meeting on a quarterly basis. Most meet once a month, some more often and some less often.
The mayor says the city is just embarking on the plan for a better "recruiting" system, but he guesses it will entail paying a lot more attention to when terms expire. He says another good way for potential members to express interest is to e-mail or call him at email@example.com or 425-0900.
"Boards and commissions deal with issues that are important to the city," said Richards.
He said especially something like the Plan Commission, for example, makes recommendations about signs, setbacks, new developments and other characteristics of River Falls.
The Police and Fire Commission, for another example, interviews all job candidates for both departments.
"They spend hours and hours doing those interviews then make a recommendation," the mayor said.
He said people interested in getting involved can always attend one of the body's meetings to learn more, or watch some on RFC-TV16 when they're re-broadcast.
Find a complete listing of the city's boards/commissions/committees, their meeting times, current members, duties, governing statutes and more at River Falls' Web site: www.rfcity.org (click on Boards/Committees/Commissions).
Check the Journal's web site -- wwww.riverfallsjournal.com soon for a video related to this story.