Merging boards may be good way to economize volunteerism

Sweet Home is known for its volunteerism.

The crown jewel, of course, of this community trait is the Oregon Jamboree. But close behind are that artificial turf on Husky Field and the Community Center, both testimonies to what can happen when local folks get interested and get involved.

There are plenty more examples and our story on page 1 of today’s issue refers to some of those: our city’s advisory boards and committees. They are staffed largely by volunteers from the community, people interested in how the city plans to spend its money (Budget Committee) or how fast drivers travel on our roads (Traffic Safety Committee) or whether we are ready for an earthquake (All Hazards Mitigation Committee) or what’s going on in our parks (Parks Board). There’s also, of course, the Beautification Committee, which is responsible for a lot of the greenery, flower baskets and such that adorn our Main Street median and generally make us look better – enough that visitors sometimes comment on it.

These and our other boards and committees may occasionally take action on their own, but often they simply advise the City Council – which we’ve elected to govern our city – to figure out how to make it more livable.

Having said that, we like the idea of rethinking the mission and possibly shifting responsibilities of some of these boards, maybe even merging a number of them.

We’ve said this before on this page: There is a bottom to the well of volunteerism in our town. We certainly have motivated, visionary, industrious people who are willing to throw their weight behind a project or a cause and see that something comes of it. The examples mentioned above clearly demonstrate that.

But most of these people also have jobs and families and other interests on top of aiding the public welfare of their city. They have limited time and energy.

That’s why this is a good idea. There appear to be enough commonalities between some of these – the example cited in the City Council meeting reported in our story of the Parks Board and the Tree Commission is a good one – to make this worth pursuing seriously.

If we take a look at the city website page that lists the boards, committees and commissions (the easiest way to get there is simply to Google “Sweet Home city committees”), we notice that nearly all have vacancies. If combining them can concentrate the players to focus on important issues, that’s good.

The council should – and likely will – consider the workload that a merge might entail. But if merging or redefining the mission of these bodies can result in five people sharing expertise instead of three, that will be great – if they can get along.

The recent experience of our Parks Board members determining they could not work with a colleague on the board is a reminder that it’s not all about ol’ No. 1. In a small town, particularly, people have to get along. Those whose own agendas are too big to accommodate the interests and needs of others aren’t going to be able to contribute like they should.

Attempting not to belabor all this, we also think the idea of opening up membership on some of these boards to people who don’t actually live within the city limits is well worth considering.

Although only residents can vote, the truth is that what happens in the City of Sweet Home affects a lot of people who live in our school district. They drive on our streets, they use our parks, they take out library cards. And some may have intelligence, energy, time and vision that could help us all. It’s certainly worth some serious attention from our leadership.

Most of us probably don’t think much about the contributions these advisory committee members – and our City Council members – make to all of us, but we should greatly appreciate what they do. Every one of them.

We just need to make sure their responsibilities aren’t any more demanding than absolutely necessary.