Once the decision to appoint an advisory committee is made, qualified residents must be identified and recruited to serve. This sounds much easier than it usually is. Many qualified people will decline involvement due to their lack of time to commit to the project. Others will decline service if the project is seen as controversial.
Cities are urged to avoid the “want ads” approach to finding people to serve on committees. Advertisements in the media may attract a large number of volunteers, but most will not have the expertise you are looking for. Some may have issues with the city and are looking for a platform to air these issues. Remember that you are seeking advice from known experts in your town to help resolve difficult problems. Every person on the street will have an opinion about what direction the city should take, but expertise is not evenly distributed throughout the community.
Instead, the governing board and staff should draw up lists of people recognized as having the necessary qualifications and who also are seen as community leaders. A proactive approach to recruiting these individuals should be undertaken. Professional groups, civic organizations, educators, clergy and neighborhood associations may be helpful in identifying those who possess the knowledge for the task.
In making appointments to citizen panels, you generally should avoid the following types of people:
- People known to have conflicts of interest in the issue and those who want to sell the city a specific product or service and who have a stake in the final decision.
- Relatives of board members or staff.
- Obstructionists. An effective citizen panel will consist of citizens having wide and diverse backgrounds. Each member should be able to speak freely and be critical of the status quo. You should look for problem solvers and avoid those who cannot suggest reasonable solutions to the objections they may raise.
- People with political ambitions. One of the purposes of seeking citizen advice is to receive input that is not colored by politics and that provides an objective analysis of facts. Appointing politicians (or wannabes) to advisory committees defeats this purpose.