New policy for city advisory boards bans city employees, creates term limits

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

The Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a policy to govern the dozens of local advisory boards that provide recommendations to the commission.

The city has approximately 40 advisory boards, committees and commissions, which currently have no overall policy for how they are run. Among its various provisions, the policy creates term limits for members.

Vice Mayor Stuart Boley said he appreciates the addition of term limits, which he said will help diversify membership on the city’s advisory boards.

“I think we need to make sure that there are places for people to come in and serve who haven’t served before,” Boley said. “And sometimes it’s hard to do that if you don’t have turnover on a board.”

In the absence of an overall policy, the boards have been governed by whatever is laid out in the resolutions or ordinances that created them, which has resulted in discrepancies in how the boards operate. The boards focus on topics such as public transit, affordable housing, public incentives and arts and culture.

The new policy would also ban city commissioners and other city employees from serving on boards because of concerns about conflicts of interest. Commissioner Mike Amyx said he questioned the idea of banning city staff members from the boards, adding that they have provided valuable input over the years. However, he said he understands the point about potential conflicts of interest.

“We have gotten some great folks to be able to serve on some of our community boards from our staff, and I wouldn’t want to put any of them in a situation that would cause any kind of conflict,” Amyx said.

Boards provide recommendations, but ultimately the City Commission has the final say. Boley, who currently serves on the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board, said he will miss serving on the board, as he has learned a lot, but that it is important to avoid conflicts of interest.

“I really do believe that we need to have the ability to make decisions at this desk without having great investment in the products that come to us,” Boley said.

The new policy provides the default regulations for the city’s advisory boards, but the commission could approve exceptions to the policy for certain boards as part of board bylaws. The commission also plans to further discuss consolidating some boards.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she thinks the policy puts the city in a good place as it prepares for those discussions.

“This start right here is a very good foundation,” Larsen said.

In other business, the commission voted unanimously to dissolve the Joint Economic Development Council and assign its duties to the Public Incentives Review Committee. Because of the new advisory board policy, two seats on the PIRC currently filled by the mayor and vice mayor will be reassigned.