Auburn City Council

Recommendations will come before the Auburn City Council for discussion at its meeting on Tuesday that would alter the application process for residents wishing to serve on local boards and commissions.

The changes will likely be addressed by the council during its Committee of the Whole meeting, which is held before the 7 p.m. regular meeting. The time of the meeting has not been announced, but will be included in the council meeting materials, which will be made public on the city's website Friday afternoon.

Recommendations, which are still being fine-tuned, will include improving the announcement process of vacancies, creating an application deadline, upgrading the application itself and forming a panel to conduct interviews before filling seats on two critical bodies — the Auburn City Schools Board of Education and the Planning Commission. 

Seats on the school board and Planning Commission are required by code to be filled by a nomination from the mayor and subsequent vote by the council, but Councilwoman Beth Witten said the interview process would allow some council members to work with the mayor to find the best candidate.

"It would be a process that the mayor would be a part of and that he would allow us to make a recommendation and hopefully he would support that," she said.

Witten and Councilman Kelley Griswold sit on the Boards and Commissions Task Force, recently created by Mayor Ron Anders, and helped develop the recommendations. While they will present them for discussion at the council's meeting on Tuesday, a vote will not occur to pass the recommendations until Dec. 18.

If approved on that date, the task force would then focus on implementing the new procedures in time to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Board of Education that will occur once board President Tracie West vacates her seat to assume her recently won position on the Alabama State Board of Education.

"We certainly don't want to rush the process, but we want to make sure it's done expeditiously so we can get somebody seated," Witten said. "They have a lot on their plate, and they need to have a full board to work with."

The idea is for the interview process to be conducted by a panel. Initially that could include the mayor, Witten and Griswold, but Witten said they are open to adding others, if needed.

In drafting the interview process, the task force examined the procedures of other cities, like Vestavia Hills, Madison and Hoover.

"We're using some other cities' board and application processes to help us flesh out the interview process and the application process," Griswold said. "We're not trying to just the two of us make it up as we go along."

Examining the appointment procedure for the city's boards and commissions is not a new idea. Witten and former Councilwoman Lynda Tremaine pushed for a more streamlined process in 2016, and in January 2017, an online application was made available to residents who wish to apply for a seat.

Witten and Griswold both said it is time to improve that application process, and city staff is currently working on creating a web-based application.

The task force's recommendations would also include a plan to provide more information about open seats.

"We talked about the announcement of vacancies and how we could improve that process for the community, and really setting expectations for each announcement," Witten said, adding that each announcement could list the qualifications, responsibilities and time commitment needed, among other specifications.

The task force also plans to propose hosting open houses throughout the year that would allow interested residents to learn about the duties and functions of each board and commission. The task force also discussed making it a requirement that only those living in the city limits be allowed to serve on city boards and commissions and that they only be allowed to serve on one at a time.

There are 22 boards and commissions — some of which work closely with city departments to do the city's business and some, like the Lee County Youth Development Board, which work independently and receive board appointments from the Auburn council and other local governing bodies.

Previously, the City Council relied on former Councilman Dick Phelan to nominate all candidates, except those required to be nominated or appointed by the mayor. Griswold was a critic of this format, and he said he hopes the recommendations will create more transparency.

"It seemed like there was a single council member bringing things forward, and it was almost a rubber stamp, so I was critical of that," he said. "I want to get it right, and I think the previous council did a good job; they selected great people for the most part ... but I want the public to have confidence in the process."

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