SEARCHING FOR VOLUNTEERSVacancies handicap city boards, policy suffers Some positions have gone unfilled for more than two years

Published 11:30 am Friday, November 16, 2012

The NRoute Transportation Commission is operating at a handicap as it works to improve the city bus system’s financial picture.

Two resignations have transformed the five-member board into a three-person body that oversees and approves NRoute’s operation.

NRoute, which is officially called the Public Utility Commission in city records, is one of 10 appointed city boards and commissions staffed by residents who volunteer and serve without pay that set policy or advise city officials on running other city departments.

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It was one of seven boards with either unfilled vacancies or members with expired terms. Some of the positions have gone unfilled for more than two years.

On April 1 The Vicksburg Post published an article detailing all the vacancies and more than seven months later, the vacancies on the NRoute Commission, as well as the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Transportation Commission and Board of Architectural Review remain unfilled.

In addition to the four city boards, the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, an 11-member board composed of appointees from the city and the county, has a vacancy caused by the 2011 resignation of a city appointee.

NRoute’s vacancies occurred in 2010 with the resignation of Rose Carter and in 2011, when Diane Gawronski resigned after her husband, Larry Gawronski, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention Center, left to take a similar position in Ottumwa, Iowa.

The loss of Carter and Gawronski created serious problems for the commission, commissioner Mark Buys said, “because if one of us can’t make a meeting, we don’t have a quorum and we can’t take any action.”

Two other city boards are faced with the inability to have a quorum of voting members.

The Public Transportation Board, which regulates the city’s taxi companies has not met since January. Ray Herrington, one of its three voting members, died in December 2011. The board has five members, but two of them, Police Chief Walter Armstrong and city clerk Walter Osborne, cannot vote.

The three-member Civil Service Board was reduced to two when board member Clyde Harris died Nov. 1.

The seven-member Planning Commission, which also sits as the Board of Zoning Appeals, operated with five members during 2011. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen named Steven Jones to the board in January, leaving one more vacancy to fill.

City officials also have not filled a vacancy on the nine-member Board of Architectural Review which was caused by Blake Teller’s resignation in November 2010.

When a vacancy occurs or a term expires on an appointed board, the board’s chairman or the city official on the board notifies the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, which moves to fill the vacancy or reappoint or replace the member whose term has expired.

Mayor Paul Winfield said the board is trying to find people to fill the vacancies on the boards.

“We’re open to recommendations or offers from people who are willing and able to serve and represent the city,” he said. “We’ve asked for assistance. I expect to fill the vacancy on the Civil Service Board soon.”

Buys said he and other NRoute Commissioners have talked with Winfield and the board about the commission’s vacancies.

“We have had conferences, with the mayor and aldermen, approached the mayor about people and recommended and suggested people, but nothing has happened,” said Buys, a banker whose own term expired in February 2010. Commissioner Don Brown’s term expired in February of this year.

Winfield, who has advocated making NRoute a city department, said that has not influenced his plans to fill the commission’s vacancies.

“The NRoute Board is an asset and we need to keep the system going,” he said.

Winfield said it is difficult to find people to serve on city boards for several reasons. One, he said, is because people don’t want to undergo the public scrutiny that comes with serving on city boards. Another is the amount of work required by some board’s like the Planning and Zoning Commission.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield has another reason.

“People have told me they don’t want to be appointed to a board because they don’t want to get involved with the politics,” he said.

“I could have approached people 11 years ago and asked them to serve on a board and they would have accepted. Now they refuse. I’ve had people ask me not to appoint them to a board because they don’t want to get into the middle of the board’s politics. That bothers me,” he said.

Planning and Zoning Commission chairman Tommie Rawlings said he also has approached Winfield with possible candidates for his board, but to no avail.

“In this city of 23,000 people, there must be some people who are willing to serve on boards,” he said.

Rawlings objects to Mayfield’s contention that politics is the reason people shy away from boards.

“We’re not a political board,” he said. “We have taken the politics out of our board. We treat everybody the same.”