The River Forest Village Board moved forward with two enhancements to the village’s advisory body appointment process at the June 28 village board meeting, strengthening communications and post-appointment support.
The issue was first raised by resident John Grant at the Jan. 25 village board meeting and he and other residents provided additional comments in February. In addition, comments from 20 additional residents on the issue were submitted. More input was obtained at a public meeting in June, at which nine members of the public made comments.
An extraordinary 28 appointments or reappointments to committees and commissions were approved at the June 28 meeting causing some consternation for some trustees.
In a memo to the board, Lisa Scheiner, acting village administrator, recommended using the village’s website, e-news and social media communications channels and its “robust communications program” to better educate members of the community regarding how applications can be submitted to advisory bodies, commission vacancies and what happens once an application has been submitted.
She said the website should have information regarding roles/responsibilities and accomplishments of the advisory bodies, how the appointment process works, how residents can engage with these bodies and specific information about each advisory body, including clearly articulated duties, number of members of each advisory body and appointment terms.
Scheiner said the communication process should include other community partners to extend the reach of the village’s engagement.
She also suggested making additional resources available to further acclimate newly appointed officials to their roles, including creation of a guide to help officials understand the roles and responsibilities of each advisory body; parliamentary procedure and rules of procedure specific to each advisory body; statutory guidelines of the Open Meetings, Freedom of Information and Gift Ban acts; the requirement that statements of economic interest must be filed annually; and the roles and responsibilities of advisory body and positions within the advisory bodies.
Trustees were generally supportive of Scheiner’s recommendations, although some points generated discussion more than others.
Trustee Bob O’Connell advocated including job descriptions and said he was not in favor of “a substantial vetting process.”
Trustee Ken Johnson said it is “very important” that officials continue to develop transparency and advocated “taking time to educate residents about the process.”
Trustee Respicio Vazquez noted that residents do not have to wait for a vacancy to apply for a position on a committee or commission. He also noted that residents can apply at any time and be placed on a waiting list. They also can apply for a position on more than one committee or commission.
Regarding the post-appointment process, Vazquez suggested that a “strong emphasis” be placed on the importance of participation and the need to have a quorum.
Trustee Erika Bachner said residents have been asking about the process since February and suggested that a timeline be established that would let residents know in advance of a potential vacancy.
“What are we doing a few months out to prepare?” she asked. “What is the role of the president and what is the role of the chairman or the other commissioners?”
She suggested that the chairperson approach committee or commission members six months before their terms expire to ask if they plan to continue.
Trustee Katie Brennan supported involving the chairs, noting “That’s the person with boots on the ground.”
Village President Cathy Adduci also agreed but noted that “sometimes we don’t know until the very last minute” that a committee or commission member plans to resign or decides against continuing after his or her term expires.
“I agree that as soon as we know we ought to begin the process of letting residents know,” she added.
Brennan suggested that prospective volunteers be encouraged to attend a meeting of the committee or commission they hope to join which would “give them more information about what that commission does.”
She proposed that encouraging prospective volunteers to attend such a meeting be “baked in” to the application.
Noting that residents have said they don’t know enough about the process and have expressed a desire for more transparency, “Let’s put it out there.”
Adduci pointed out that some residents don’t know which committee or commission they want to join, noting, “They just want to give back.”
Bachner’s suggestion that trustees see applications of those not chosen by the president was opposed by Adduci, who defended the current practice.
She said “almost all” municipalities follow the same process that River Forest follows and said she wanted to avoid adding another level of bureaucracy.
“I don’t think we need that,” she said. “I think it works and I think it’s not broken.”
Brennan asked that trustees be given recommendations “a month or two” in advance and cited the pressure she felt having to vote on 28 appointments and reappointments. She noted that the majority of the reappointments were for positions that expired April 30 and two were chairs.
Vazquez acknowledged that the 28 appointments and reappointments were an extraordinary number to consider at a single meeting, but he noted that action was deferred not only because the board was studying the process but also because the village president position was on the April 6 election ballot and a change in leadership was possible.
“We will do our best to get it as quickly as we can,” Adduci said.
The village currently has 11 standing advisory bodies and two ad hoc committees. Of the 11 standing boards and commissions, five are created by state statute and account for 21 of the 52 appointments by the village president and board of trustees.
The remaining six standing boards and commissions were created by the village board and account for 31 appointments. In addition, 54 individuals are appointed to the ad hoc committees.