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Tuesday July 16th 2019

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Boards and Commissions Appointments


photo courtesy City of Boulder

The following letter was sent to the Boulder City Council by PLAN-Boulder County

Dear Mayor Appelbaum and Members of the Boulder City Council,

City Council will soon receive applications for positions on city boards and commissions. As in years past, there is pressure from the development community to appoint development professionals to the boards and commissions, with the argument that they have special expertise that eludes other Boulder citizens. The city charter requires that some boards comprise a given number of professionals and PLAN-Boulder County supports those requirements. However, overloading boards with development professionals leads to conflicts of interest and frequent recusals.

Professionals may be exceedingly competent, but not at all disinterested. Experience shows that when it comes to an ability to pay attention to technical information, professionals may succumb to the temptation to give excessive deference to those they view as peers, potential clients, or potential regulators of their own projects. Our most recent example was the Planning Board hearing on the Hogan-Pancost concept plan, in which the professionals on the board, when presented with data about the water table and the flood plain, dismissed the overwhelming evidence against the proposed development with comments like, “I’m not a scientist,” and “[This is] a lot of science that I don’t quite understand.”

The city charter states that board and commission appointees should be “well known for their ability, probity, public spirit, and particular fitness to serve …” We need effective, intelligent board members, not a claque of “professionals” who only listen to other members of their club.

In your appointments this year, PLAN-Boulder County urges you to consider:

  • Professional judgments are provided by city staff. The city staffs its departments with professionals. The purpose of most boards should be to provide citizen oversight and to represent the community’s desires. It’s true that sometimes board member comments and questions seem ill-informed or less than artfully crafted, but they often get to the heart of an issue, perhaps one where existing regulations or professional dogma lags behind what communities now need or desire.
  • Oversight. By necessity, department staffs are insulated from the community and many do not live in the community. The boards offer a counterpoint and link to the community that staff cannot provide. Appointing board members whose livelihoods depend on approvals and recommendations from staff undermines the oversight function of boards.
  • Inclusiveness. An inclusive government and its citizen boards are intended to reflect the entire community. If nothing else, this should be a moment when council stretches further in its appointments and actively seeks to appoint segments of our community that are not well represented on boards. We encourage you to look at geographic diversity, racial and ethnic diversity, and socioeconomic diversity.
  • Commitment. One of the most important issues facing the city is determining the right mix of development to ensure that Boulder continues to thrive without compromising the aspects that make Boulder a wonderful place to live. There is no formula for getting this right. With every project, various interests must be balanced. The best we can hope for is to have on the city’s boards people who are committed to making sound decisions based on the best information available at the time.
  • Perspective. It is desirable to have members of the lay public on boards because they have expertise in what Boulder residents want, regardless of the views and interests of outside experts. Ordinary citizens are the consumers, after all, of whatever the boards and commissions have wrought.
  • Leadership. The boards and commissions are training grounds for future elected and appointed positions. That training should not be denied to Boulder’s scientists, teachers, accountants, plumbers, doctors, grocers, retirees or any citizen as long as they can demonstrate that they have “ability, probity, public spirit, and particular fitness to serve.”

Thank you for your attention.

PLAN-Boulder County Board of Directors

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One Response to “Boards and Commissions Appointments”

  1. mark gerwing says:

    I think painting all professionals with such a broad, prejudicial brush is reprehensible. Far from being a claque of like-minded professionals, individual board members who are planners, architects and builders have the knowledge and ability to call to task their fellow professionals without being intimated by “expertise”.
    Boulder has more architects per capita than any other US city. That these professionals would be interested, as citizens as well as architects, in serving on City Boards and lending their experience to the place they have chosen to live is not remarkable. If you like the quality of life in Boulder, you should at least in part thank the architects like Charles Haertling that pushed for Open Space purchases, created a vision and plan for the Pearl Street Mall and helped protect the Boulder Theater and countless other landmarks.
    I would not support “packing” of Boards with professionals, but I certainly would not insult and demean a whole class of people who give of their time and efforts to make Boulder a better place.

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