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Barry County commissioners agonize over how to recruit

Rebecca Pierce, Editor, reports how Barry County Commissioners agree that there are plenty of opportunities for residents to serve on boards and committees in the county.

But sometimes there aren't enough qualified candidates seeking to serve.

Commissioners speculated about the reasons: Is it poor communication of the opportunities to serve the county? Is it the way those opportunities are being communicated? Is it the process itself that discourages involvement? Can commissioners do more to engage citizens and interest them in serving?

“How do we get more people to serve on boards and commissions?” Commissioner Ben Geiger asked his fellow commissioners at the committee of the whole meeting Tuesday. “How do we make it easier? How do we make it friendlier?”

The traditional process starts with vacancies being advertised in the local newspaper. Interested individuals apply for a specific vacancy. Then applicants appear before the commissioners' committee of the whole.

“Appearing here in this seat is intimidating for many,” Geiger said. “This appears more like a congressional hearing than a friendly interview process.”

Another problem is that applications are only good for a specific vacancies so, if an applicant isn't chosen for one board, they must reapply for another opportunity.

“You might be good in other places,” Geiger pointed out. “But, if you're not good for a particular vacancy, you have to start the process all over again.

“What are the chances that you'll apply again if you just got rejected?”

Even though some boards meet at night, these interviews are conducted during the daytime hours when people are working, he added. “That, in and of itself, is probably a reason why some people aren't applying.”

One of the biggest reasons people don't apply for these opportunities to serve on a board is that they don't know what the job involves, Geiger added. “We need a little more handholding to get people into the system. We need a friendlier process.”

Geiger proposed changing the application from one for a specific vacancy to an application of interest.

He also urged shifting the advertising message from filling vacancies to finding leaders.

“We need to make a call for people to serve.” He suggested incorporating Facebook ads along with newspaper advertising.

Dan Parker pointed out that public service isn't necessarily easy. “ If they get in a board meeting, and they have to make some decision, they may have to take some of the same pressure that they get here when talking to us. That's part of getting initiated into public service.”

“Yes, we don't want to set people up for failure,” Geiger said. “We need to advertise for public servants that don't want to be politicians.”

“What I keep hearing is I'd like to serve but I'm not a politician. Well, good! Our citizen boards are manned by everyday folks who just want to give back.”

Geiger said they would continue to incorporate newspaper advertising “but I think we can make jazzier advertisements.”

Vivian Conner said she doesn't favor changing the way they pick applicants. “I don't want three commissioners making a decision on who is picked. I think it should be up to all of us.”

“You think this is intimidating?” she said of the interview before commissioners. “Wait until you get on a board.”

She also said these changes suggest that residents aren't capable of handling the process. “They are very capable. It sounds like we have to help our residents fill out an application. I don't think that's so.

Applicants need to come before the full board. I think our residents are totally capable. They just need more education. I don't want to change the interview process.”

Commissioners differed on whether the proposed application should mention background checks and criminal records.

Geiger said he has already created a Facebook page to handle the solicitations, which would be managed by him or the county information technology department. “Professionally, I've worked in this arena. We would use it as a launch page. ... I have something on ice in anticipation of this.”

That concerned Wing, who emphasized that content on Facebook would need tight control.

Geiger assured her that it wouldn't present a problem since it wouldn't involve any campaign finance issue because they wouldn't be advocating for a specific ballot issue. “It would be clear from the Facebook advertisements that this is just encouraging people to sign up,” he said.

Wing said there are advantages to having an interview committee “so we're not hashing it out here. Sometimes, asking some of those tough questions in a public meeting, the answers get in the press and that can be embarrassing to people because of the way they stutter and they don't interview well under pressure.”

Wing recalled her experience. “I came up here and I sat under the hot seat and stuttered my way through the interview. ...It was very intimidating. If it had been a two-step interview, it might not have been so intimidating.”

On a voice vote, Conner was the lone dissenter to the recommendation that the strategy be adopted, set to expire on March 10, 2020. Action on the resolution is expected at the board meeting next Tuesday, June 25, at 9 a.m. in the mezzanine of the County Courthouse.



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