The Hays City Commission Thursday will consider disbanding several of the volunteer boards that advise the commission.
Mayor Henry Schwaller IV requested the city review its boards at the commission’s work session Thursday at City Hall.
Schwaller explained that city staff spend a lot of time managing the committees, that the committees very often don’t have any pressing matters to handle or discuss, and that it’s hard to find people to volunteer for the boards, many of them created by the city, but sometimes even those required by Kansas law.
“I really appreciate you bringing this up,” said City Commissioner James Meier, who said that during his time as mayor he struggled to find appointees. “It’s very hard to get people to be appointed to these. Even the ones that are state statute.”
The commission will formally decide whether to disband several committees at its regular meeting Thursday.
Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty said last Thursday that there are certain times of the year when the city of Hays staff get valuable input from the Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course Advisory Board. But there’s no need for a standing advisory committee like the one that currently exists, he said. Instead, it would be easy for the city to call special meetings to get feedback about tournament schedules, or priority needs at the golf course, Dougherty said.
“We could easily handle that in a couple meetings that everyone’s invited to participate in,” he said.
Schwaller said the city is lucky to have people that volunteer to serve.
“We appreciate their work, particularly when they’re serving in an advisory capacity,” he said. “That means that those people meet on a monthly or every-other-month basis, they come up with recommendations, and many times nothing happens. So for them, it’s a pretty trying exercise.”
He also spoke in favor of ad hoc committees appointed for specific tasks.
Meier agreed, saying a specific task with a specific timeline might attract more volunteers.
“I don’t necessarily view this as we’re eliminating input or people being involved,” he said. “I view this as a way for us to actually get more input and more people involved.”
City Commissioner Ron Mellick also supported the ad hoc idea, saying he’s been to some committee meetings where the volunteers had nothing to talk about, and had to look for problems.
“They meet every month and there’s not that much to discuss,” Mellick said. “If they had a task, then they could jump on that task.”
For example, the Building Trades Board has only met once the past two years, and that meeting wasn’t necessary, city staff noted. It’s hard to find members, and the building code appeals process the committee handles could be rolled into the duties of the Board of Zoning Appeals. In the past 15 years there’s only been one appeal to a building code, according to the agenda support material.
Dougherty said standing committees that can be eliminated, or with input gathered ad hoc or annually, are: Airport Advisory Committee, Building Trades Board, Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course Advisory Board, and the Hays Beautification Committee.
The Sister Cities Advisory Board could remain intact, but without city oversight and while still receiving $5,000 in annual funding from the city to continue as a conduit to Hays’ sister cities in China and Paraguay.
The city would continue to maintain the CARE Council, a joint creation of the city, county and United Way, which handles dozens of social service funding requests for the city, he said.
The city commission has previously disbanded other committees. In 2013 it disbanded the Neighborhood Revitalization/Downtown Development Review Board. In 2003 it formally disbanded 11 committees.
Commissioner Sandy Jacobs agreed that the CARE Council is “extremely valuable.”
“There’s a lot of work you don’t even see, a lot of visiting the different agencies, they do yeoman’s work,” she said.
The Beautification Committee could be disbanded, with those on the committee serving instead as a Tree Board for handling Tree City USA matters, said Jacobs.
“I know we have trouble getting some people on those boards, but there are a number of people that have served on those boards for a long time and take it very seriously,” Jacobs said. “I want them to know that that is really appreciated by all of us.”
City Commissioner Shaun Musil said he’s concerned about the staff time being absorbed by the committees, whether scheduling, minutes, or researching appointments. At the same time, the city’s airport is seeing a lot of commercial aviation growth, he said.
Dougherty assured the commission that volunteer airport advisors would still be tapped.
“We still want input,” Dougherty said, noting the formal board was a remnant of the general aviation side, when that was the sole focus of the airport.
“There are plenty of opportunities for us to do ad hoc groups to get that input,” he said.