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Keeping City Boards and Commissions Filled

With functions like architectural review and planning or zoning appeals, boards and commissions can play a foundational role in the life of a city or town. Even so, finding members to fill the slots can be an uncertain process if it relies on recommendations or word of mouth to connect open positions with people who have the passion and available time to serve.

The City of Newberry recently responded to the challenge with an application on its website covering all boards and commissions, along with a social media campaign to promote it, City Clerk Jennie O'Shields said. The city undertook the effort with the goal of building up "an abundance of interest and qualified individuals that will allow us to refresh boards and commissions from time to time," she said.

The application form lists each body available, ranging from some bodies with just five members, such as the Zoning Board of Appeals and Construction Board of Appeals, all the way up to the Newberry Opera House Foundation Board, which has 17 members.

Each board listing includes the requirements as well. For example, service on the Accommodations Tax Advisory Commission requires city residency as well as hospitality industry employment.

In Greenville, City Clerk Camilla Pitman has several points of advice for promoting board service opportunities, starting with public speaking.

"Every opportunity you have to speak to a civic, nonprofit, church related, citizens academy, neighborhood associations, leadership group — take it," she said. "Also, it helps to have a handbill prepared that you can pass out when you go to those groups to speak."

Such handbills, she said, should have enough information to spark interest and connect people with more information and applications on the city website. After seeing media releases about board service opportunities from the City of Columbia, she began doing that as well, and soon afterward had the media running the information.

Through the ongoing contact with residents, Pitman said, councilmembers and city staff can work together to identify candidates and encourage them to get involved. She also pointed to local festivals as an opportunity to set up an information booth where board or commission members as well as councilmembers can promote involvement.

"That way the attendees are receiving information directly from citizens who have already made the decision to serve. Also, keep an eye on your board and commission members — they could be your next mayor or councilmember.  Boards and commissions are the first step to becoming a future elected official," she said.