If giving approval for a $55 million budget sounds fun, the city of Hermiston’s Budget Committee has a few openings that might be right for you.
“Position No. 8 has been open for about two years, and position No. 9 has been open for about a year,” City Recorder Lilly Alarcon-Strong said.
The budget committee is one of about 15 committees that the city regularly finds itself struggling to keep full. If someone wants to volunteer for the city, Alarcon-Strong said, there’s generally at least a couple of openings on committees at any given time.
Currently there are five open positions on the Budget Committee, one on the Recreation Projects Fund Advisory Committee, one on the Faith Based Advisory Committee and one on the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center Committee.
A committee can’t vote on anything without a quorum — meaning at least half the committee members are present — so some committees have reduced the number of people on their committee in order to be able to meet that requirement more often when seats are vacant or committee members are absent.
“The Hispanic Advisory Committee went from nine to seven to five,” Alarcon-Strong said.
The commitment for serving on a committee varies. Some, like the Library Board or Parks and Recreation Committee, meet once a month to discuss recommendations for the city council on their allotted subject. Others, like the Budget Committee, meet once a year for a specific purpose. And some committees, such as the Rebuild Funland Committee, exist only temporarily to see a specific project through.
Often committees do the legwork for the city council in researching and developing projects, before asking for the council’s approval on the plan. One of the city’s most influential committees is the Planning Commission, which rules on zoning, conditional use permits, plats and other land use decisions that can make or break a building project.
Volunteering to sit on a committee can be a good way to step up participation in local government — somewhere in between “votes once a year” and “running for mayor.” Often candidates for city council started out on a city committee, and those who win a seat on the council can continue to sit in on that committee as a council liaison.
“I think if people volunteered more, they would have more knowledge of city happenings,” Alarcon-Strong said.
Mayor David Drotzmann said committees help bring a diverse perspective to the city council and increase transparency, creating the opportunity for input from 50 to 60 people instead of just eight city councilors and the mayor.
“We vet a lot of concepts and ideas through these committees,” he said.
He said joining a committee is a great way to have an influence on city government without taking the “heat” that the city council does on high-profile decisions.
City committee openings are kept up to date on the city’s website at hermiston.or.us/volunteer, and application forms can be printed off of there or picked up from city hall. The city performs a background check on applicants. If more than one person applies for the same seat on a committee, the Committee to Review Committee Vacancy Applications will interview candidates before making a recommendation to the city council.
Hermiston isn’t the only city that is continuously working to fill seats on committees. Pendleton also has a wide range of committees, listed on the city’s website. Some, like the Planning Commission, are universal to cities in Oregon. Others such as the Arts Committee, Historic Landmarks Committee and Air Quality Commission are different than Hermiston’s chosen committee topics.
Information about each committee and forms to apply for committee vacancies can be found online at pendleton.or.us/committees-boards-commissions or picked up at city hall.