The age-old idea that what we Americans need is better local government remains alive and well today at City Hall.
One way to improve on things, local leaders say, is to engage community members who will passionately participate in the process by serving on the city’s “Boards and Commissions.”
But in Merced, it’s been a constant struggle in recent years to fill seats on these important panels, such as the Planning Commission or the Parks & Recreation Commission. In some cases, simply getting the attendance to maintain a quorum has been difficult.
All year long, City Council members have been seeking volunteers in their representative districts, and they have nominated several individuals. Nevertheless, several key openings remain to be filled.
“We want residents to be involved,” says Mayor Matt Serratto. “We want them to help run our city. These boards and commissions serve as an important bridge between the citizens and the inner workings of the city.”
More often than not, the mayor says, City Council members will follow the recommendations of board and commission members when faced with significant, and often difficult decisions that will affect all residents.
Earlier this year, during a strategic planning session, council members made it a priority to improve the way they as a body, and through city staff, can engage with the boards and commissions, and help make them more impactful and more meaningful.
Serratto says the city’s Arts & Culture Commission is a perfect example. With council and city staff direction, they have made great strides in recent months to inspire local artists to take part in public art projects aimed to beautify city streets, business districts, neighborhoods and parks.
“If we were to just let them be, they might be all over the place,” the mayor says. “But we have found that if we give them a specific task, they excel.”
The mayor added, “I firmly believe we need to do a better job integrating these boards and commissions into our work flow. We just can’t let them be. There has to be that connection.”
Mayor Serratto doesn’t have to convince Mary Camper, who currently serves on the Planning Commission.
“Volunteer boards and commissions are a huge resource for the city,” Camper says. “We serve our community by advising policymakers, and we like to think we provide an avenue for communication to occur between community members and elected officials.”
She adds, “I care about our city’s direction, and I believe the most effective way to have a voice and affect change is to get involved and serve. I’m always encouraging others to do the same.”
Assistant City Clerk Jennifer Levesque is the staff person who helps organize the effort to fill vacancies on the various boards and commissions. She recognizes that volunteering time is a heavy lift for many resident, but she also recognizes the opportunities that exist within civic service.
“It would be tough to find energy and time to volunteer in addition to personal and family time, but many believe there is an obligation, or responsibility to serve our local community, so they fit in volunteering,” Levesque says. “The city tries various ways to reach as many community members as possible. We continue to look for more creative and successful ways to improve our outreach processes.”
In the meantime, here’s some information on what it takes to get involved right now:
All Board and Commission positions are voluntary, and the City Council appoints most.
The time commitment for each board or commission varies, with some meeting on a regular schedule and others on an as-needed basis. There may be additional time commitments for pre-meeting preparation, subcommittee, or special meeting attendance.
Applicants must live within the City of Merced and cannot be City staff. Terms are four years with the option to be reappointed. Attendance at regularly scheduled meetings is crucial. All meetings are open to the public, and copies of meeting agendas are available at least 72 hours prior to a regularly scheduled meeting.
The following Boards and Commissions have openings:
Arts and Culture Advisory Commission
• District 3
• District 6
Building and Housing Board of Appeals
• 1 vacancy
— Applicants should be registered or licensed professionals in the trade, design, engineering, construction, or inspection of buildings.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission
• District 2
• District 6
• District 2
Recreation and Parks Commission
• District 1
• District 6
Tax Transparency Commission
• District 5
For more information and to apply, visit online at: cityofmerced.org and find “Popular Links” and then “Apply for a Board.” To find your Council Member and to confirm your district, go online to: cityofmerced.org, and then select the “Departments” tab, and then find the “City Council” link.
The Deadline for applications is Friday, August 18, 2022.