The Rapidian

Citizens needed to fill City of Grand Rapids boards and commissions

City officials are specifically looking to increase the diversity in citizen boards and commissions, and is encouraging women and people of color to get involved in City governance.
City of Grand Rapids

City of Grand Rapids /Steven Depolo

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The City of Grand Rapids is looking for volunteers to help them fill roles in a total of 40 citizen boards and commissions. City officials are specifically looking to increase the diversity in those boards and commissions, and encourage women and people of color to get involved in City governance.

The City Clerk's office made a presentation to the city commissioners on August 17 detailing the disparity between the city's 2010 census demographics and those on the volunteer city boards and commissions.

For example, over the last five years, on the Automobile Parking Commission with nine positions, only one position has been held by a woman each year, and never a woman of color. It is one of 17 boards to not have had any women of color on them in the last five years. Overall the report shows women and people of color vastly underrepresented.

The three boards that show no women on them at all include the City-County Building Authority, the Construction Code Board of Appeals, and the Grand Rapids Building Authority. Of the 40 boards, only four have more women than men. There are also 12 of the 40 boards who've had no men of color on them.

The City Clerk's office is pushing to make an effort to change those numbers.

"All are welcome and we desire to recruit and spread a wide net. We also want to be representative of the community that we serve," says City Clerk Darlene O'Neal. "This is a report card if you will, and if one of the goals is to look more the like the community we serve, that may make a bearing on whom we pick for the board."

"These roles are important because it's another opportunity for civic engagement. I look it as a position on a board or a committee through the same lens as voting: it's an opportunity to have a voice and participate in a process that can shape your community."

O'Neal notes that it's not just race and gender but also ward representation that the city is looking to correct.

Ward 2 tends to have 1.5 times as much representation as Ward 1 and Ward 3, while non-residents often equal or outnumber city residents.

Those wishing to apply to a city board or commission can do so by going to the city's website and filling out an application. The application process generally takes two to four weeks, if there are no pending issues. Applications are sent to the Income Tax Department and the Treasurers Office make sure the applicant is not indebted to the city. It's then passed onto the City Commissioners who vote on whom to add to the city's boards. There is self-disclosure on the form, but no automatic background check.

"We're looking for people that have a desire to serve their community in this civic engagement application. It's all volunteer based, there's no stipends or commissions. Individuals should have a passion and interest to serve in this capacity," says O'Neal. "Some boards and commissions are more specific in the credentials you should have- for example, on the construction appeals board, to facilitate better decision making. Depending on which board and goals they're hoping to accomplish, we need to have the right people at the table so their voices are heard."

For more information on openings and to fill out an application, visit the Boards and Commissions page on the Grand Rapids City Clerk's site.

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