When It Comes To Appointments -- First Do No Harm


Doctors have to make a solemn promise: First -- do no harm.

We like that. Very reassuring attitude to take when handling scalpels -- or adopting ordinances and planning the future of the town we love.

So, this week's council agenda made us scratch our heads. And so, for that matter, did outgoing Mayor Bob Edwards' discussion this week of the future of the nearly two-dozen task forces he created to ponder assorted difficult questions.

Once Mayor Edwards lost the election to Kenny Evans, assorted people set to sharpening their scalpels -- or could it be bone saws -- to go to work on the mayor's legacy. But wait, doctor: Stay your hand. Quick -- put on your glasses.

We've always admired Bob Edwards' zeal for getting people involved in town affairs. He brought into the process people who might never have served and showed a wonderful ability to motivate.

And that citizen involvement is the beating heart of the body politic. So before we set to any rash amputations, best to locate the arteries.

First, consider the issue of appointing people to serve on officially constituted boards and commissions. The current town ordinance invests in the mayor the responsibility for making all such appointments. This is generally a thankless job involving lots of cajoling to get the right people to donate their time to the community.

But sometimes, that process can concentrate too much power in a single set of hands.

So after a flap arose earlier this year, we urged the council to spread the responsibility for appointments among all the council members. Such a system would ensure that the the boards and commission are at least as diverse as the council.

So now we note with interest a Thursday agenda item submitted by Vice Mayor Tim Fruth to change the system. His idea? Have the vice mayor make the recommendations.

And what problem would that change solve?

It still concentrates a vital power in the hands of a single council member. In that case, might as well leave it to the mayor.

Make no mistake: The system should change. But only if that change diversifies recruitment.

And that brings us to the second question.

What should the town do about the 22 task forces with 160 active and concerned citizen members?

We love the commitment those task forces have demonstrated, but the current system muffles their impact. The task forces report directly to the mayor -- who would post reports on his Web site. Often, council members, town staff and people most involved in the issues were vague on the findings of the task forces. The relationship between the task forces and the town council was muddled. Sometimes, members of the task forces themselves would show up at Town Council and wonder plaintively why they'd spent so many hours pondering a problem without being heard by the council.

So we applaud the idea of forming citizen groups to help solve specific problems. But we think they should become a vital part of the process -- with recommendations and findings submitted in writing to the Town Council or to relevant commissions.

So we would urge the incoming council to preserve this innovative, creative and useful element of the Edwards' legacy. Task forces have been used successfully by other communities and they'll work here within a proper structure.

The details might prove complex in some cases. Should the task forces report to certain commissions or directly to the council? Should council members nominate members for the task forces or should the commissions to which the task forces might report? Moreover, the council needs to review the current rooster of task forces and decide which ones have completed their task and which ones the town needs on an ongoing basis.

We're inclined to apply the same principle to the task forces as we applied to the established commissions -- and urge a system that encourages as much diversity in appointing members as possible.

But in any case, before the boys with the scalpels go to work -- they should be sure they can tell the cyst from the vital organ.

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