By Mark S. Watson, Oak Ridge City Manager
The City of Oak Ridge is one that prides itself on the interest, knowledge, and involvement of its citizens in local government. Oak Ridgers are always willing to add a different perspective, technical information, and just darn good opinions on topics that affect them.
On January 12, 2015, the Oak Ridge City Council will appoint citizen volunteers to fill vacancies on boards and commissions that have occurred due to term expiration and attrition from the board membership.
Applications must be received in the City Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31.
Over the past years, the City Council has found it sometimes challenging to fill the vacancies of its various boards. People are busy, and getting busier! Some feel that many governmental matters require special knowledge. Others have not thought of providing their talents to shape their community.
The city currently has 16 boards. According to information provided by the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service, most cities the size of Oak Ridge have fewer than 10 boards. In some instances, we have enough applicants to fill the vacancies; other times we do not.
As city manager, I have observed a greater need to communicate about what our Boards may be working on in the coming year so that individuals with a particular interest or skill set might consider applying for service to the community. For example, the Recreation and Parks Board may benefit by having citizens with sales and marketing experience in 2015 as they develop a plan to seek donations for the Friendship Bell reconstruction project.
Listed below are some possible projects for several of the Boards in 2015.
Beer Permit Board: The Beer Board is charged with the approval of beer licenses and permits. Upon receipt of complaints, the Board monitors beer permits for compliance with city ordinances and state laws. A board member may be involved with hearings and reviews of permit holders. Thus, individuals with facilitative/problem-solving skills may assist small businesses with licensing and attracting new businesses. One project will be to develop a progressive review discipline process for permit holders and provide recommendations to the City Council.
Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals: This board provides authority of the city to order the demolition of housing and requirements of city building, plumbing, and electrical codes. The board hears appeals for violations as identified by the code administrator and city inspectors. With the “Not in our City” program, this board is really important. The selected appointee should have a strong personality that is willing to make tough decisions and yet be compassionate to specific situations of involved property owners.
Convention and Visitors Bureau: The Bureau has recently received approval for a new contract with quarterly updates being provided to the City Council. Members should be able to assist in the creative efforts and work with the executive director on outside contracts affecting the hotel and motel industry, as well as promotion of the City of Oak Ridge in general. Board members with backgrounds in promotion, organization, recreation industry, and marketing would be helpful.
Environmental Quality Advisory Board: This board serves as an advisory body to the City Council on special environmental matters. This board has assisted the city manager this past year with the TVA Energy Makeover grant and has worked on the update of the benchmarks for the locally adopted Climate Action Plan. Particular needs will occur in 2015 with examining environmental housing-related issues, with continued work on the Climate Action Plan implementation.
Industrial Development Board (IBD): In 2014, the development of the Horizon Center and Heritage Center received more economic development inquiries and visits than in the previous five years. The city has been in intensive national competition for potential new jobs and major businesses at the industrial sites. The IDB has been helpful with the Main Street-Oak Ridge Tax Increment District. The board will also will be instrumental this coming year with the recommendation of tax incentives, recommendations to Council on land agreements, and seeking infrastructure grants from the state.
Candidates for the IDB might have a strong business background, knowledge of Oak Ridge, and a positive attitude toward the competitive world of economic development. Most meetings are covered by the media, and thus positive attitudes toward the image of Oak Ridge should be easily conveyed by members. Some basic knowledge of banking, bonds, and tax programs would be helpful.
Personnel Advisory Board: This board meets on an as-needed basis to hear discipline appeals and for providing reviews of the city’s personnel plan, rules, and positon descriptions. Backgrounds in personnel matters makes optimal candidates for this position. This board meets on an “as-needed” basis, but it is important to be able to process sometimes complex personnel rules while working with the Personnel Department. In the upcoming year, this board will review changing city personnel position classifications. Along with the personnel director, members will begin the development of an approach on competitive compensation concerns for city positions, such as electrical linemen, and other positions where competition is greatest.
Recreation and Parks Advisory Board: This board is one of the city’s most active boards. The board is in charge of city recreational assets, land and facilities. Next year, they will be involved in the development of the Friendship Bell reconstruction project and the resulting action of the Clark Center Park project.
Senior Advisory Board: This board advises the City Council on senior issues. The structure of the board has been re-vamped to seek interested citizens who are knowledgeable of senior issues. One purpose has been that of establishing a Senior Center. Due to financial limits and expectations, progress has been limited. However, new issues involving transit and taxis needs to be addressed.
Trade Licensing Board: This board consists of specific trades that reflect the consolidation of the Electrical and the Plumbing Board. These certifications occur based on the results of standardized tests. This board has specific requirements and has recently addressed itinerant licenses and electrical registrations.
Traffic Safety Advisory Board (TSAB): This board provides review of traffic related issues in Oak Ridge. Assistance is provided to the City Council on an advisory basis. The TSAB was involved this past year with the removal of red light cameras and studies on existing roads, in addition to placement of traffic lights. Although advisory in nature, this board can assist in the review of technical analysis of traffic decisions.
The above is just a sampling of the many opportunities for you to serve your city.
In recent weeks, many of our Council members have been approached by members of the community about how they can become more involved. Please contact the City Clerk’s office at (865) 425-3411 for more information or go online to the City’s website www.oakridgetn.gov to retrieve an application for submittal to the City Council. You may also contact me or any City Council member about these Boards and ask how you can help YOUR City.
Remember, all applications must be in by 5 p.m. December 31.
I will see YOU at the next Board meeting!