Maryville City Council for the second work session in as many months recently discussed how people are chosen for its more than 20 boards and whether those methods in some cases should change.
The topic first was raised in a regular council meeting in July when leaders voted on appointing six members to different long-standing boards.
Most of these were reappointments and Councilwoman Sarah Herron wanted to know if the city was making any moves to diversify these groups of leaders instead of simply reappointing the same people for new terms.
Some, in this way, have served on city-appointed board seats for decades.
That led to a discussion during the Aug. 20 work sessions when City Manager Greg McClain handed out a list of every board and all of its members as well as the methods by which Maryville fills its seats.
McClain explained during the Sept. 24 work session that, though the city receives a pool of candidates wanting to serve in board positions, city staff narrows that pool before they recommend a single person to council members and the mayor.
Many board members have served in positions for years — “You want to have somebody in there with experience,” McClain said — but each board is different and some, McClain said, have very specific, very experienced people on them as well as very specific selection methods.
For instance, Maryville City Council members are elected at large by citizens, as is the Maryville school board.
Others such as Maryville Planning Commission, Maryville Board of Zoning Appeals and the Maryville Housing Authority have roles appointed by the city mayor.
Still, other board members are up for appointment by the City Council as a whole.
Often the appointments come from a pool of people interested in serving on those boards. That pool is narrowed down by city staff and then members are recommended for appointment.
Council members then vote to confirm these appointments for terms usually ranging in length from three to six years.
Herron said she wanted more oversight in this process, and asked McClain if there was a way council members actually could be involved in selecting and narrowing that pool of appointment candidates.
McClain and other council members pushed against this notion during work session discussion, emphasizing that if council members were allowed to in any way influence the board member selection process, opinions might get involved.
"Your prerogative as a board is to say, 'You know, thanks but no thanks. We'd really rather see someone else,'" McClain told council members. That's currently how they could express dissatisfaction with appointments.
But Herron is suggesting going deeper into that process, working with boards to create the pool itself, and influencing the names ultimately selected by staff members.
"If we were to make some revision in how we do this, what would it look like?" McClain asked.
He suggested bringing a pool of candidates to the work sessions for discussion, letting council members discuss them before they were recommended. "What I don't want to do is take an opinion I might have and say it out loud and hurt our relationship with people," McClain said. "Instead, I would look to you guys individually and be honest about what I see going on."
Typically, he added, opinions about potential board members could be discussed both in one-on-one and public meetings.
"Then ... if three or more of you say 'no' they just have to go back and submit someone else," McClain said, adding, "This council may want to send a letter to each one of these boards describing expectations."
He added that sometimes boards don’t know what their bylaws are regarding appointments.
McClain said he recently was reading state law and one board's bylaws and found they didn't match up. He did not name the board he was referring to.
"One of the jobs that I have, and it's a very important job, is to appoint people to these boards and I'm concerned that I'm not doing a very good job at that if I don't understand why they were chosen, who they are, what their background is," Herron said during the work session.
She added it's important to have new people on boards, not just individuals who have served for decades, and honing the selection process might address that.
Herron emphasized that boards didn't have enough diversity and wanted to do her part to fix that.
Discussion on board member selection may continue in future work sessions, leaders agreed.
Maryville council members have appointed or reappointed nearly 10 people to separate boards since the beginning of July.