Lawrence City Commission to consider policy to standardize advisory boards, including term limits

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., Thursday, July 7, 2016

The dozens of local advisory boards that provide recommendations to the Lawrence City Commission may be getting some new faces.

At its meeting Tuesday, the City Commission will consider adopting a new policy to govern the city’s approximately 40 advisory boards, committees and commissions. Among its various provisions, the policy adopts a process for removing absentee board members and creates term limits for members.

Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said that would likely get more Lawrence residents involved.

“I think that was the intention of the commission,” Stoddard said. “With regard to term limits, they really wanted to be able to involve new people and tap into new ideas.”

The boards focus on topics such as public transit, affordable housing, public incentives and arts and culture. Currently, there is no overall policy for how boards are run.

Stoddard said the boards are governed by whatever is laid out in the resolutions or ordinances that created them, which has resulted in discrepancies in how the boards operate.

“It just hasn’t been real consistent, which happens when these boards are created over time,” Stoddard said.

Because of differences in the resolutions, some boards lack term limits, meaning that the membership on boards can be stagnant for years. As a general rule, the new policy would limit terms for city appointees to two consecutive three-year terms.

The new policy would also make absentee board members easier to replace. Some boards have struggled with low attendance, at times not having enough members present for a quorum, causing topics to be postponed. The new policy states that the city staff liaison will monitor absences, and that the board can vote to forward a recommendation to the mayor to replace board members with excessive absences.

The new policy would also ban city commissioners and city employees from serving on boards because of concerns about conflicts of interest.

Currently, seats on some advisory boards are automatically filled by the mayor and vice mayor, and those boards submit recommendations to the City Commission, which makes the ultimate decision. At a work session last month, City Manager Tom Markus said that practice is not the norm, and commissioners agreed that it creates a potential conflict of interest.

The policy would also disallow part-time and full-time city employees from serving as board members. Stoddard said there are five or fewer city employees that currently serve on boards, and they will be allowed to finish their current terms.

The new policy also includes procedural standards. The policy states that all boards must allow public comment, and it provides specific rules for posting agendas, posting meeting minutes and sending notifications regarding the date and time meetings will be held.

A review and standardization of the city’s advisory boards was one of the priority initiatives the commission identified during its strategic planning process. The commission also expressed a desire to reduce the total number of boards.

As part of Tuesday’s meeting, the commission will consider dissolving the Joint Economic Development Council and assigning its duties to the Public Incentives Review Committee. If the new board policy is adopted, two seats on PIRC would also open up, as the mayor and vice mayor currently serve on the board.

During the commission’s August work session, city staff also recommended a few other board consolidations or eliminations. The commission indicated they were not interested in some of those changes, including the elimination of the Sales Tax Audit Committee. Stoddard said city staff is still considering other potential consolidations.

“There are a number of things still on the to-do list that we’ll be bringing back to the commission in the future,” she said.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.