Originally created 02/10/02

Council members suggest volunteer pool, term limits



AIKEN - Debate about how the city of Aiken appoints its advisory committee members and how long they can serve will continue Monday night.

City council members say they rely heavily on the committees to make important decisions. But council members Dick Smith and Jane Vaughters say not everybody is getting a fair shot to serve on them.

Meanwhile, an analysis by The Augusta Chronicle shows that 70 percent of the committee members come from Aiken's voting Districts 3 and 4, which encompass Aiken's growing and more affluent southside.

Mr. Smith and Mrs. Vaughters say a pool of volunteers could diversify the process and create more representation from throughout the city.

The two council members also want terms of service limited. Now there are no term limits and each council member and the mayor can appoint anyone from any city district to serve on the nine committees.

"(The applicant pool) gives you new points of view," Mrs. Vaughters said. "We have a big town. We're not 5,000 people anymore, and we have enough people to rotate these commissions."

The nine committees that would be affected by the change are: the accommodations tax committee; the board of zoning appeals; the building code appeals committee and board of adjustments and appeals; the community development committee; the environmental committee; the general aviation commission; the historic preservation commission; the park commission; and the planning commission.

Each committee has seven members.

"If you don't know a council member and don't have a way of applying, it's an awkward process," Mrs. Vaughters said. "This would make it easier."

There are current committee members who have served more than a decade, and one who has served since 1968. The proposed ordinance would limit committee members to eight consecutive years of service.

The council will vote on an ordinance Monday night that would allow people to apply for commission seats. Each council member would select names from a pool, and the council as a whole would approve each member's selection.

Terms would be staggered so three appointments would expire in one year and the other four would expire the following year. Members on committees that will be affected serve two-year terms, except for members of the board of zoning appeals, which serve three-year terms.

The ordinance also would limit how long a member could serve as chairman to three years.

Councilman Don Sprawls, of District 3, said he thinks the city's current committee system is fine. The longer members serve, the more expertise they offer the city, Mr. Sprawls said.

And the applicant pool system has already been tried, said City Manager Roger LeDuc. Aiken created an applicant pool in the mid-1990s, but did away with the process when not enough people applied. Committee members must live in the city or own a business in the city, Mr. LeDuc said.

Implementing the pool would also be an attempt to address the disproportionate representation with some districts having no appointees on the committees.

There are 63 members on the committees. Excluding the General Aviation Commission, which includes members from Aiken County and from the city, 45 percent of all committee members are from Aiken voting District 3, according to The Chronicle's analysis.

The Chronicle found that 25 percent of the committee members came from District 4, 25 percent came from District 2 and 5 percent came from District 1.

Districts 3 and 4 have experienced the benefit of Aiken's recent population and commercial growth.

Between 1990 and 2000, Aiken grew by 27 percent to about 25,000 people, according to Census 2000 data. That growth was weighted to the city's southside, data show.

Districts 1 and 2 sit to the north of the city and remained stagnant during the 1990s.

Councilwoman Beverly Clyburn represents District 1 and said she has a hard time finding people from her area who want to participate.

"When I look at an issue, I forget that I'm from District 1, but I remember that I'm from the city," Mrs. Clyburn said.

"I think people need to be more aware of the fact that being involved in city government is a good thing," she said. "I have to appoint people where I can find them.

"It is not as easy as you think to get volunteers."

Council members said the southside receives more attention because its growth demands it.

"Northside has just been waiting for its turn," Mr. Sprawls said. "I don't think it's been neglected."

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