Originally created 12/23/01

Panels' makeup questioned



AIKEN - It's been said that a member of Aiken's City Council doesn't have just one vote, but 12.

That's an additional vote for each of the city's advisory committees whose members are appointed by council.

City council's seven members each nominate one person to all but a few of the city's committees. Nominations must be approved by the council as a whole and are almost never contested, city officials said.

"You clearly have a situation where a council member would want their views represented on (some) boards," said councilman Richard Smith, who, with councilwoman Jane Vaughters, has requested a review of how the city's boards and commissions are selected.

Aiken City Council will hold a study session Jan. 22 to discuss the issue.

Mr. Smith and Mrs. Vaughters, both recently elected to council, say Aiken's current system does not ensure diversity. To do so, Aiken should create a pool of interested candidates.

Mr. Smith and Mrs. Vaughters have proposed that a panel, including the mayor and two council members, would review candidates from the pool for open positions then pass a selection on to city council for final approval.

The proposal also suggests limiting service on any committee to six years, and the term of committee chairman to three consecutive years.

Except for Aiken's Board of Zoning Appeals and Historic Preservation, the city's committees offer city council advice on a range of topics, including growth and environmental issues. The zoning appeals and historic preservation boards can issue judgments independent of city council.

The zoning appeals committee must have an attorney and an architect, City Administrator Roger LeDuc said. The historic preservation committee must have an architect, attorney, someone with real estate experience and someone with historic knowledge of the community.

But the new council members say Aiken's Planning Commission, where two members have ties to real estate development, is an example of a lack of diversity.

State ethics laws require members with interest in the outcome of a vote to recuse themselves. But they do not go as far as defining the composition of the planning commission, said Herb Hayden, executive director of the State Ethics Committee.

Mr. LeDuc said laws only require the planning commission be made up of a "cross section of the community."

"You can take that very broadly," he said. "It's very nondescript. What does cross section mean?"

Attorney Brad Brodie has been a planning commission member since 1998. He said he approaches projects that come before the commission with an open mind.

"You've got some (members) that are pro growth, and you've got some who don't want anything built," he said. "We work well together."

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

What's Next: A study session to discuss how the members of Aiken's advisory committees are selected will be at the municipal building Jan. 22. Call (803) 642-7654 for more information.