Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2007

Elected officials should use appointed boards to advantage

Our elected officials don’t seem to always use appointive boards to their benefit.

Last month four members of the Batesville Planning Commission resigned. Only a couple said their decision was in protest of recent overrides of their decisions by the board of mayor and aldermen, but anyone close to the situation knows better.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Luckily, those members were replaced with well qualified citizens who should have no problem learning the functions of that board.

It’s not the first time volunteer servants have resigned in protest. It won’t be the last.

Members are usually appointed by elected office holders and may represent the city, county or district that the governing board making the appointments represents.

Board members usually are laymen with some knowledge of the area in which they  serve, not an agenda of self service but one of public service.

When volunteer boards are regularly overridden by the ones responsible for appointing them, it sends the wrong message. It becomes a waste of time both for those volunteering their service and for those citizens who must come before them.

Those boards are established to make recommendations, not make law. They enforce the law, or make recommendations of exceptions to the elected board. The elected board adopts the law. The appointed board sees that those laws are enforced.

If every decision has to stand the political scrutiny of a handful of elected officials looking over the shoulder of the appointed board, then there’s really no use in having that board in the first place.

Certainly the elected board should have the authority to overrule an occasional decision by the non-elective board and be ultimately responsible. But those overrides should be rare and made after consultation with the volunteer board members and with much reasoning and sound judgement.

Even though the elected official is held accountable, the appointed board member often knows more in the subject area of that board than the ones who put them there–or they shouldn’t have been considered in the first place.

An appointed board regulating areas such as housing, airports, beautification, planning or zoning should be used as a buffer between citizens and elected officials. This acts to stifle knee-jerk reactions to unpopular policy decisions and gives the elected official a way of explaining that sound, knowledgeable judgment by highly qualified people made the decision in question.

With knowledgeable and respected appointees serving on these regulatory boards, their decisions should be solid and pass the smell test.

If we continue to override the regulatory agencies and their volunteer boards, we will see a  less knowledgeable, less respected pool from which to appoint eventually forcing appointments from the “ bottom of the barrel.”

Public service should never be self-serve either monetarily or politically.