Commissioners want change in panel interview process

Athens-Clarke County’s mayor and commission appear headed toward saving themselves some work when it comes to making appointments to the dozens of boards, authorities and commissions that work with and for the local government.

 

During a Tuesday discussion of an audit regarding the county’s relationship with the 34 boards, authorities and commissions to which the mayor and commission make appointments — which do everything from making recommendations on zoning issues to overseeing Athens-Ben Epps Airport, The Classic Center and the Bear Creek Reservoir, to advising the county on public art and aesthetics — commissioners gave serious consideration to streamlining the often onerous process of making appointments to those groups.

For some years now, whenever vacancies occur on those boards, authorities and commissions — routinely, numerous vacancies will occur at once, as terms of service end — the mayor and commission have set aside at least one full day to interview candidates for the open positions, after those candidates have completed a very general application.

The issue became particularly acute during the last round of vacancies in December, when 52 people applied for 10 open positions.

At times, Commissioner Jared Bailey told his colleagues at the non-voting Tuesday work session, that process has led to some pleasant surprises, as unlikely candidates have come forward, impressed the mayor and commissioners, and gone on to offer significant service to the community as members of one appointed body or another.

But, as other commissioners remembered Tuesday, that process has also produced some trying moments. During a recent round of interviews, according to commission discussion Tuesday, one candidate said he wasn’t particularly interested in serving, but had applied at the urging of family and friends.

“There’s got to be a way to winnow the pool of applicants,” Commissioner Kelly Girtz told his colleagues Tuesday, before going on to suggest that one way to do that might be to send applicants a set of three or four questions to answer in advance of any interviews, and using those answers to decide whether, in fact, to call the applicant in for an interview.

Commissioner Melissa Link proposed a similar option, suggesting that applications for board, authority and commission posts be more detailed, and that they include questions related to the specific panel in which an applicant is interested.

Commissioner Andy Herod suggested that the mayor and commissioners could each review applications on their own, and could use their collective impressions of the applicant pool as a way of bringing the number of interviews down to a manageable number.

“I don’t think we need to interview everybody who applies,” he said.

While she couldn’t take any formal action Tuesday, Mayor Nancy Denson all but told commissioners she will be assigning the issue of board, authority and commission appointments, and broader issues regarding those bodies, to the commission’s Government Operations Committee for review. At some point, the committee likely will bring recommendations for adjusting the interview process to the full commission for consideration.

In other developments related to the audit of the county’s boards, authorities and commissions by Stephanie Maddox, the county’s internal auditor, and her Operational Analysis Office, with assistance from Commission Clerk Jean Spratlin and other county government managers, commissioenrs learned Tuesday that Athens-Clarke County could do a better job of informing the public about its various boards, authorities and commissions and their activities.

Maddox, whose audit included a review of how other county governments deal with similar panels in their jurisdictions, pointed commissioners Tuesday to nearby Gwinnett County. The metropolitan Atlanta county’s website includes links to its dozens of citizen panels. Through those links, citizens can learn about the responsibilities and powers of the various groups, their meeting schedule, and qualifications for serving on a particular group.

The Gwinnett County website also includes links to notices of upcoming meetings of its boards, authorities and committees, the agendas for those meetings, and, when the meetings are concluded, the minutes of those sessions.

In a set of findings included with the audit, Maddox is recommending that the county create some sort of online presence for each of its boards, authorities and commissions; that there be some sort of standard set for the information that each panel provides to the public; that upcoming vacancies be advertised at least a month in advance, that there be some assurance that the groups are complying with state open meetings and open records laws and that the county create a handbook for citizens interested in serving on a board, authority or commission.

Maddox’ recommendations also referenced the commission’s interview process, but suggested only that the mayor and commission set aside more than one day to interview candidates for vacancies.

 

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