By Scott Robertson
The chair of the Washington County Commission’s Commercial, Agricultural and Industry committee has put forth an idea he says should help county citizens feel they have an adequate voice in the county’s business. Commissioner David Tomita floated the idea last week of creating a Citizen’s Advisory Board to the commission.
The basic idea, Tomita said, was to have citizens who frequently speak out critically about the commission’s proceedings put some skin of their own into the game. “The idea is to engage our citizens in the process of finding solutions rather than just making critical points,” Tomita said. “It works in the city.” Tomita is also a Johnson City commissioner.
“What I envision is them being free to hone in on whatever things the majority of them see as issues,” Tomita continued. “In letting them tackle that, it gives a formal voice to the citizenry.”
Tomita admitted there is likely to be some pushback against the idea from those who believe the county commission’s mission is to be that voice, making such a board redundant.
Adding into the equation the likely increase in public comment opportunities at commission meetings, the idea that citizens need their own board in order to be heard seems farther-fetched.
But there’s more to the idea than just giving citizens a louder voice, Tomita said.
“The second point that we really haven’t gotten to yet is the fact that if we shrink the size of the county commission, the stress and strain of just staffing the committees – the standing committees, the ad hoc committees, the budget committee, the airport authority – there’s a lot of work that has to be done. We’re going to have to have a pool of citizens to draw from in order to fill all those committee seats with us having fewer than the 25 commissioners to which we’ve become accustomed.”
Tomita looks at the Johnson City model and sees an opportunity for citizens to gauge their level of interest in taking their public service career further as well.
“It should be a great training ground, sort of like a farm team where citizens could learn the ropes of county government.”
This is not the first time the idea has arisen of having non-commissioners take seats on committees of the commission. A previous attempt in 2010 met with no success.
“That didn’t go over very well with 25 commissioners,” Tomita remembered. “But imagine if we get down to 15 commissioners next term. We’re going to need people, and we’re going to need people who will engage in the solving of problems, not just the lobbing of hand grenades.”