October 24, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 43

Advisory board members question relationship with assembly

The Petersburg Borough Assembly voted to retain the Parks and Recreation and Public Safety advisory boards Monday but the function of the boards might change after the assembly learned it isn’t using them as the ordinance is written.

Advisory boards currently meet to discuss potential issues or programs with borough department heads without direction from the assembly. They then bring recommendations to the assembly as issues arise.

But the assembly has been systematically reviewing advisory boards during the past several months and will let several dissolve. Some criticisms of advisory boards are that there are often not enough members present to form a quorum or, depending on the board, that there isn’t enough turnover to keep ideas fresh.

Donnie Hays, Parks and Recreation Director, filled out an evaluation form sent out by the borough to assess the merits of individual boards. Hays wrote that the board reviewed no issues brought to them by the assembly or the borough manager—which is how the ordinance directs the assembly to use advisory boards.

“As the director I feel like I come to the meeting and give them a rundown of what we’re doing at Parks and Recreation but there typically isn’t any other items that are brought by the board themselves,” Hays said.

Assembly member Kurt Wohlhueter said some boards might need “nurturing” but sees value in their existence.

“I certainly don’t want the responsibility of having to listen to the public, even though I will, bring up these little issues,” Wohlhueter said. “I think it’s great to have a board that brings us their recommendations and nine times out of ten I’m just going to go ahead and rubber stamp whatever a board has come up with because they’ve done all the leg work.”

Kathy O’Rear, Borough Clerk, told the assembly that, according to ordinance, it’s up to them to assign issues for the advisory boards to study and come back with recommendations, not for the boards themselves to do so.

“If that’s what you want your boards to do you need to change your code to say that,” O’Rear said. “You guys are the body. You’re the public body that’s supposed to listen to complaints.”

Syd Bacom, Public Safety Advisory Board Chair, spoke to the assembly as they discussed retaining it. He’s been on the board for 14 years. He said the board has evolved over the years and that originally it used to get a lot of direction from the then city council.

“It’s a big choice whether you want to keep us to handle the small issues,” Bacom said. “Do you really need to hear them in here? I don’t know…we have lots of answers to give where it doesn’t have to come to this (assembly) level.”

Wohlhueter said it seems the assembly needs to restructure the way they gather information.

Assembly member John Hoag was present by teleconference and commented on the Public Safety Advisory Board. He said the biggest public safety issue in Petersburg is a drug and alcohol problem. To the best of his knowledge, Hoag said, those issues are not discussed. He said he thanked the folks who have discussed smaller issues but also that the issues tended to be irrelevant.

“They micro-manage things such as stop signs and speed limits when there are tons of standards and literature for the police chief and the public works director to deal with those issues as opposed to some board’s personal opinion on what those issues should be.”

He also said any consideration of re-writing ordinance should be done “en masse” and boards should be appointed rather than elected.

Sandy Dixson, EMS Director, disagreed with Hoag and said the public safety board doesn’t only pay attention to personal complaints or concerns. She said the public often comes to the board with issues and concerns.

The assembly will review the ordinance at a future meeting.

Along with the Parks and Rec and Public Safety boards, the assembly has also retained the Harbor Advisory board. It has let the Utility and Motor Pool boards dissolve.

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