There’s a shortage of citizen volunteers for Gardner’s committees.
The alarm on the lack of citizen participation in the various boards and commissions was sounded at a recent Gardner council meeting.
Citizen participation is part of the bedrock of the city’s policy making functions.
There are ten citizens’ boards and commissions that oversee an array of services ranging from planning, utilities and airport – to police and sidewalk maintenance.
Members of these commissions are usually recommended by a councilmember and appointed by the city council. They serve with no compensation. Traditionally – until recently – the committees have met once per month, and the meetings last a couple of hours. That’s a big time commitment, and the council recently changed meetings to quarterly, or on an as needed basis.
The committees do important work. Almost anything that gets to the elected council members for a vote has been considered by the relevant commission. Most major purchases or projects that the city undertakes will have been scrutinized by the relevant committee or commission.
The planning commission is always on deck for any developments coming up including holding public hearings, while the airport commission has grappled with issues at the airport for years.
Without adequate citizen participation, important city functions may proceed without the scrutiny and approval of the citizens who would be most affected.
The mayor recently admitted that the system in place is not working and urged council members, whose task it is to recommend appointments to the board, to exercise their powers with a sense of urgency.
The citizens who choose to serve on the boards and commissions provide a needed service to their community; they stand in gap between vision and implementation, and we applaud their selfless commitment.
While citizens are not compensated for serving on the commissions, those involved do get first hand education on how their city works and have a say on how things are run in their community.
Currently only one of the ten committees- economic development advisory committee- is fully staffed.
While we urge citizens to apply, we also ask the council to return to a pro-active way to inform and engage residents regarding the committees.