The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday expressed support for reductions and changes to the more than 40 committees and advisory boards that fall under its purview.
At its work session Tuesday, the commission directed city staff to move forward in the process of consolidating some boards, eliminating others and laying the groundwork for a policy that would standardize board procedures.
As part of the discussion, City Manager Tom Markus said the city’s practice of having city commissioners serve on advisory boards that submit recommendations to the City Commission is not the norm. He said it creates an awkward position for commissioners.
“You go to your role as a city commissioner and it’s tough to separate yourself from that duality that has occurred,” Markus said. “You almost have to champion the cause from the board that you sat on or you feel like you’re a bit of a traitor.”
However, Markus said it makes sense for a city commission representative to continue to serve on governing boards related to organizations, such as the chamber of commerce, that receive city funding and have independent discretion on how that money is spent. Under those circumstances, Markus said commissioners essentially serve a watchdog role.
Commissioners agreed the commission’s role on governing boards should be maintained and that they should be removed from advisory boards that submit recommendations to the City Commission.
“I think it puts us in a difficult position,” said Vice Mayor Stuart Boley, noting that he serves on the Affordable Housing Advisory Board and the Public Incentives Review Committee.
In addition, the majority of commissioners also agreed with a recommendation that other city employees should not serve on boards. However, Commissioner Mike Amyx said the city has many good staff members he thought could serve on boards and step away from recommendations if needed.
But Markus said he doesn’t think it’s an appropriate role for city employees and that those seats should be reserved for members of the public.
City staff will now move forward with developing a draft policy that covers topics such as appointment of board members, term limits, residency requirements, attendance, resignation procedures and public comment at meetings. The overall policy will come before the commission for additional review at an upcoming meeting, and the commission will discuss exceptions for some boards.
In accordance with the commission’s strategic plan, city staff is also recommending the commission consolidate five boards and eliminate a handful of others. Commissioners agreed those decisions need more discussion, but did make clear they do not wish to eliminate the Sales Tax Audit Committee should Lawrence voters choose to renew the 0.55 percent citywide sales tax this fall.
Consolidation of boards does not affect related organizations that receive city funding, as those decisions are made as part of the city’s budget process. For those boards that the commission chooses to combine, city officials said commissioners would have to discuss further how the membership would adjust.
“There may be some that could completely be absorbed, but there may be others you want to reconfigure,” Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said.
In other business, the commission voted unanimously to authorize a $170,000 engineering services agreement with Bartlett & West Engineers for the design of the East Ninth Street Project. The engineering plans will not incorporate a design concept completed by el dorado inc. last year that cost $320,000.