My View: Empty Chairs Need Bodies

Welland committees, boards have chairs to be filled.

Welland committees, boards have chairs to be filled.

By Joe Barkovich Scribbler-at-large

Interesting to see the public notice in Thursday’s newspaper in which the City of Welland extends the deadline for applications to various boards and committees.

Is the city having difficulty recruiting “qualified citizens” to fill the seats on these public bodies?

Oh, before going further, these boards and committees should be listed:

Accessibility Advisory Committee;

Arts and Culture Advisory Committee;

Committee of Adjustment and Committee of Revision;

Heritage Welland;

Market Square Advisory Committee;

Senior Citizens Advisory Committee;

Town and Gown Committee;

Transit Advisory Committee;

Welland Arenas Advisory Committee;

Welland Community Wellness Complex Advisory Committee;

Welland Development Commission;

Welland Public Library Board.

This public notice appeared Nov. 27 on the city’s Civic Corner page. If my memory is correct, it is the same notice that appeared Nov. 20 (and prior), when the deadline for applications was listed as Nov. 21. The notice that appeared Nov. 27 extends the deadline for applying to on or before 4:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12. That’s 2 weeks and a day – a lengthy extension.

The notice provides info about the number of appointees on the various boards and committees. Welland Public Library Board, for example, has 8 citizen appointees, the Town and Gown Committee has 4 (3 residents-at-large, one of which must be a resident in the direct area of the Niagara College campus and a landlord rep from an approved housing facility in the city), Heritage Welland, 5 and Arts and Culture, 6. As you can tell from this sampling, the numbers vary.

These are important positions. In almost all cases, the term of office is four years – the same as council’s. I believe the only exception is the Town and Gown committee, where the term is two years: Dec. 1, 2014 to Nov. 30, 2016.

What’s happening? I see three scenarios:

Are people reluctant to apply because of the duration of the term? Four years represents a major time commitment, even if, say, a committee or board meets only monthly;

Is reluctance to come forward a reflection of volunteer burnout in Welland – are too few people doing too much of the volunteer work that’s required in a community and, in the process, becoming tired of, and from, it?;

Or is this another sign of anemic interest on the part of the community in municipal affairs? Welland had 37,926 registered voters for the recent municipal election with a total of 13,568 cards cast, representing a dismal voter turnout of 35.8%. If so few people are interested in doing their democratic duty and voting on election day – should it be surprising that it’s difficult to get people to come forward and apply for these positions on committees and boards?

Should we be concerned by the slow response and the need for extending the deadline to apply? I think so. While there is no shortage of redneck commenting on newspaper websites by anonymous armchair critics who purportedly have answers to anything and everything, there appears to be a reluctance by people to become actively involved as responsible citizens in the community. How sad is that.

I know and understand that some people have commitments already, even to the point of being “in over their heads” as the saying goes. But there are probably others who could afford the time commitment but choose not to make it – apathy is a powerful force! I think that diminishes us as a community, because there are many, many good candidates “out there”. The challenge is in convincing them to become involved. Like it or not, that’s My View.

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City. My View is a recurring feature on the blog.)

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