The Jasper City Council is discussing about reappointing a number of boards, as the vast majority of the committees have all or most of their seats held by members whose terms have expired, sometimes for years – going back as far as the early 2000’s.
The matter was discussed at the March 12 work session. Council members were given an updated list of committee members, their expiration dates and how they are appointed, revised on Jan. 19. The list revealed a large number of boards filled with members whose terms expired years ago.
Tree Commission seats all expired between 2002 and 2008, while the same happened to the Library Board between 2013 and 2016. Two of the three Northwest Alabama Mental Health Board members appointed by the council have not been reappointed since 2009 and 2007. The Parks and Recreation Board expired between 2012 and 2015. All but one Planning Board seat have been left unfilled between 2010 and 2020.
At the work session, Councilwoman Jennifer Williams Smith, who has had an interest recently in the issue, addressed the five-member park and recreation board, noting it is for three-year terms. She noted the council has talked of staggering the terms, all of which are currently expired – one in 2012, one in 2013, and three in 2015.
Smith asked if the council decided about the eight-member Architectural Review Board, which has six three-year terms, and two one-year terms. Two of them expired in 2005 and the rest expired in 2007. City Attorney Russ Robertson said Jasper Main Street essentially replaced the board.
She said that the Jasper City Board of Education are supposed to be reappointed. The list said the five-member board is supposed to serve five-year terms. While Mary Beth Barber is set to serve until 2025, four members already have past expiration years: Scott Thornley (2019), Teresa Sherer (2016), Walker Wilson (2018), and Councilman Willie Moore (2017).
However, Mayor David O’Mary said Friday the dates on that board were out of date themselves, and the school board is up-to-date on appointments. He said the school board does the best job of notifying council members of a reappointment need and keeping things up to date, followed by the industrial board.
Robertson said at the work session the reappointment process is how staggering is carried out. He noted most board members serve until their successors are appointed. But if no one is ever reappointed, the city would revisit a situation the water board got into a few years with staggering being far off track. “You had a bunch of terms ending at the same time,” he said.
He discussed how to stagger, if no one has been reappointed, someone might have to be appointed to maybe two years, and then reappointed for a full six years on a term, in order the catch up with staggering terms.
O’Mary asked if all boards are subject to the Open Meetings Act. “I think we learned that in the Citizens Advisory Council and the lawsuit we went through,” he said.
Robertson said most boards would be, although he could not guarantee all of them. “In general, I think you should assume they are subject to the Open Meetings Act,” he said.
Smith said as the city is making its new website, other cities will list the different boards and who is serving on them on other municipal websites, as well as the process for getting on a board if they want to serve.
She said more information needs to be out about the boards.
“We don’t even know what some of these boards are, and that’s sad,” Smith said.
Smith talked about reappointing the Housing Board – one member, Don Kilgore, expired in 2017 – and she mentioned the Jasper Industrial Development Board is up to date – the only board on the list with all seats appointed and in date. Chairman Terry Gurganus and Andy Byars are up for reappointment at the end of 2022. The board has no less than seven members but has usually operated with nine, all with six-year terms.
Smith noted the Library Board is not meeting, and the list showed all five seats have expired appointments, with four-year appointments expiring between 2013 and 2016. She said she had people interested serving on that board, and that the council had talked of getting with Jasper Public Library Director Sandra Underwood for her input on appointing board members.
“And again, I don’t know why it is a big deal,” she said. “I think it is a fantastic idea. I have people wanting to serve. Later on, they may be our future council members or so,” she said. The board could also help in putting on events or fundraisers for the library.
Robertson said the school board and the water board are different in how they are incorporated. But in general it is up to the council whether the boards are in place or not.
“You make a great point from a management standpoint. Wouldn’t you love to have five citizens who were interested in a topic and make recommendations to you on what to do instead of you having to go reinvent the wheel every time somebody asks for something?” Robertson said. “So they can be very useful if they are active and they are meeting.” He noted the planning commission makes recommendations and the zoning board of adjustments grants variances the council never hears about.
The park and rec board had other issues, such as the ordinance requiring them to meet on a set day. He said there might be more issues to look at in regards of that board, beyond appointments.
Smith said she didn’t want to appear frustrated, “but I think this is such an easy thing to do is to look at all of these” and to update them. “We just need to pull the ordinances and look at them,” he said. Robertson said it would be up to the council in most cases to appoint the boards.
Cowen said the first order of business should be to get the park and recreation board up to date and maybe change the ordinance to let the board decide when they want to meet. Smith said a number of people have told her they want to be on that board.
Robertson said in response to a question from Smith that not all the boards have a governing ordinance, but they are all provided for by state law.
O’Mary: Council should keep up with its appointments
O’Mary, asked on Friday why the boards have not been kept up to date, said the question needs to be asked whose responsibility is it to do. “I have a few of them I appoint, but the vast majority of them is the responsibility of the council,” he said.
He felt he was recently under fire from Smith over appointments to the industrial board, as it sent a list of names for those they would like reappointed or have as replacements for others.
“They sent that to me. I took it to the council and she blew up,” O’Mary said. “She said, ‘You’re trying to slip something in on us.’ She said, ‘I need to check all these people out.’ Well, all I was doing, I was bringing information. So I said right then, I said, ‘Ma’am, I keep this squeaky clean. I’m just trying to help.’ But I believe if it is the council’s responsibility to appoint the board, it is the council’s responsibility to keep up with.”
He noted it was important to remember the board members are volunteers and there will have to be some oversight. “If it is my responsibility to report, it is my responsibility to follow and see if there are folks who need to be added or reappointed, and that sort of thing. If it is the council, I think it is there responsibility and nobody else’s,” he said.
O’Mary said it is conceivable some other dates may not be correct on the list. “I was looking at one the other day, and I think everybody on it is dead, so it didn’t matter what the date was,” he said. However, he added, “I think there is a lot of appointments to be made.”
He pointed to the Tree Commission. “Nobody is going to get energized about that. They are never going to meet. It is kind of hard to keep that up,” he said. “And they can’t seem to get together about the park and rec board.”
He said the council can appoint that board, “but once that board is appointed, the council is done. Those folks don’t work for the council. They don’t work for anybody. They volunteer for the city and they serve at the direction of our park and rec director, who is Peter Cosmiano. And then if there are issues, that becomes the mayor’s to deal with, not the council’s.
“In the long history of the park and rec board, there has been a lot of strife and it finally went dead long before I ever thought about getting into political arena. I remember what an awful mess it was, with friction and people trying to do things I think that was accommodative to their children or their baseball team.”
He is confident if that board is appointed, the city can “bring new life and organization that can be beneficial to the city.”
As for the committees overall, he said it was “a classic case of out of sight, out of mind. We get it fixed, and then we forget about it. I think the appointing authority should show the responsibility to see the boards are always fully staffed and appointments are up to date.”
STORY BY ED HOWELL – DME