Coulson Park plans

The city of Billings Parks board members met in August to discuss master plan proposals for Coulson Park in a packed boardroom. The Parks Board is one of more than two dozen city commissions composed of volunteers.

Last week, the Billings City Council approved 25 mayoral appointments to advisory boards ranging (alphabetically) from the Board of Appeals to the Yellowstone Historic Preservation Board. There were also seven board vacancies for which no volunteers applied.

The one-page list of appointees on the council agenda belies the tremendous amount of time and people involved in filling the boards and commissions that are charged with helping the council track and evaluate policies and services.

A Gazette opinion in October called for volunteers to step up, so last week, we asked Mayor Bill Cole to comment on the recruitment and appointment of city board volunteers. Cole responded with a detailed description that bolsters confidence in volunteerism and the mayor's appointment process.

49 applications

"For the latest round of openings we had, by my count, 49 applications for the 32 openings (the 49 included two people who each applied for two different openings)," Cole wrote. "All of those 32 openings were not "true" openings in the sense that there were 14 incumbent board members who asked to be reappointed and who were eligible for reappointment. (Some, but not all boards have a limit on the number of terms a board member may serve, and sometimes board members do not apply for reappointment even though they are eligible.) By longstanding tradition, it is customary to honor an incumbent's request for reappointment unless there is a good reason not to do so."

"When the city advertises board openings it does not know whether the incumbents will or will not request appointment, but for the sake of full transparency it might be a good idea to revise our notifications to indicate whether a particular board seat is truly an "open" seat or is instead occupied by an incumbent who might choose to reapply," Cole said.

Current vacancies

The current unfilled vacancies include two seats on the Downtown Business Improvement District Board, who must own land in the BID; three seats on the Board of Appeals, one of whom must be an electrician, another an engineer and the third an at-large representative; one Zoning Commission member, two Community Development Board members who must live in a designated low/moderate income area, one Parking Board member, and one Yellowstone County Planning Board member who must live in Ward 2 in the Heights.

This vacancies are scheduled to be re-advertised on Jan. 3 and Jan.10. But Cole has already reached out to possible applicants and recruiters.

For example, the Board of Appeals, which meets rarely and only to decide complaints concerning the interpretation of the International Building Code, has long generated little volunteer interest, yet state law requires the city to have this board. Cole said he made several calls last week and identified three people who promised to submit applications for all three of the now vacant seats, one of which has already been received.

For the Zoning Commission, Cole says the found two excellent candidates who want to apply for the one open seat.

"With a little cage-rattling, I think I can also find good applicants for the BID, Parking Board and the Planning Board," Cole said. "I typically contact the chairperson of each board to ask him/her to encourage other board members to find good applicants. The city also notifies the task forces and includes notices in various city publications and on the city website."

Apply now

To recruit applicants for the Community Development, new advertisements of the openings will be forwarded to area social service providers, lenders and Realtors, neighborhood task forces, AmeriCorps VISTA alums, and other individuals.  Cole also wants to engage council members who represent those areas to try to fill the two vacant seats. Low/moderate income neighborhoods include the city center and large parts of the Heights. Check the map at a link with this editorial at billingsgazette.com.

For more information or an application for a Billings board, go to the city website https://ci.billings.mt.us/65/Boards-Commissions.

"Anyone who is interested should feel free to submit an application even before a position is advertised," Cole said. "It's never too early."

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.