Three Rivers needs to fill two dozen board, committee vacancies but how?

With a growing number of vacancies across most city boards, the Three Rivers City Commission Tuesday discussed a variety of options to encourage more involvement from the community. 

Monetary incentives ranging from $10 to $25 per meeting were proposed as a way to recruit interested citizens. While the incentive would not include authority boards such as the Three Rivers Library Board, TRDDA, River Country Recreational Authority or Industrial Development Authority, there are a total of 26 vacancies across other committees — some with only one board member. At-Large Commissioner Torrey Brown acknowledged this growing need saying, “Some boards don’t have enough people to have a quorum, so we have got to find a way to get them filled.”

At-Large Commissioner Lucas Allen suggested a trial period of six months to test the incentive approach, and then reassess. If the program only helped the city gain two new committee members, for example, Allen said the board could decide to stop payments and “go back as it were, still recruiting, always recruiting.” Brown countered by pointing out, “That’s two more people than what we would’ve had, so I would say keep it. Because then you take it away and you lose those two peoplem and we still have 26 openings. We’re back to where we started.” Brown’s suggestion to the board was to revisit the proposal at a later date after seeing what the city budget could allow. 

Third District Commissioner Chris Abel echoed fellow board members’ frustration with the lack of participation. Abel added that several positions on city boards are being filled by non-residents of Three Rivers. “Why don’t we do a percentage off your water bill? Twenty percent off your water bill, or something like that? That would encourage local residents to do it, because non-locals wouldn’t get any benefit from it.” Abel reiterated how dire the need is for involvement from the community, saying that if a change isn’t made soon the city may need to begin dissolving certain boards. 

With a strong stance against offering monetary compensation in order to encourage more participation, First District Commissioner Pat Dane said, “I have a real problem with paying people to be on a board. If they have enough interest, why did they have to be paid to be on it?” She said those who offer their time and their voice to city decisions should be motivated by the desire to be a part of community decisions, and not by financial gain. Dane’s suggestion was to dig deeper for more information, such as finding out what the community interest is or what certain boards need. Dane suggested the city could hold a meeting where chairpersons of the aforementioned boards attend and submit what they’re doing, what they want to do, and what they need to accomplish those goals.

Mayor Tom Lowry also spoke out against using monetary incentives. “I don’t want to pay people because, to me, it’s an insult to the people who volunteer. We have to pay people to sit in a meeting that, otherwise, they would have never gone to? To me that makes a horrible statement about humanity.” Lowry instead recommended continuing to spread the word about the urgent need for more active participation. 

With the discussion drawing to a close, Allen asked if it would be possible to send out a survey where community members could be asked their reasoning for not joining boards. Board members agreed it would be a way to collect information on the reluctance of volunteering for these positions, with Lowry in agreement. The discussion ended at this point, with the possibility of reevaluating attainable solutions in the future. 

For those wishing to get involved, more information is available on the Three Rivers City website (under city meeting calendars and board information) at  www.threeriversmi.org.

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.

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