When it comes to selecting volunteers to serve on county boards — such as the library board, the cemetery board, the planning board and so on — Jackson County commissioners have largely stuck with who they know, despite stated intentions a few years ago, to move toward a more open application process.
And, while handpicking familiar faces may give commissioners assurances as to who they’re placing on the board, it also can work to limit the potential pool of talent and skill sets on committees.
However, in their latest round of committee forming, Jackson County commissioners inched toward a slightly more inclusive appointment process. To fill the nine-person Cullowhee planning committee, commissioners opted to leave two seats open for general members of the public.
No invitation was necessary to participate, only an application.
“Really, the purpose of the application was to give the people who were not appointed by commissioners an opportunity put their name in for consideration,” said County Manager Chuck Wooten.
It’s fairly revolutionary compared to the historic process of each commissioner naming their picks to fill up the seats on a committee.
In Haywood County, every time a seat on any of the county’s many committees or boards comes up for appointment, the county goes through an open application process with interviews — an acknowledgement that commissioners may not be privy to all the qualified volunteers in the county who may have something to offer.
“Some boards have actually gone to an interview process,” Wooten said of other counties. “But we just haven’t gotten there yet.”
Wooten hopes the test run in Cullowhee might facilitate that, with many county boards always looking to find member willing to commit the time and energy.
Commissioner Charles Elders said he’d welcome more applications and interviews for board positions. However, he pointed out that if he has someone in mind for a board, and knows them and what they stand for, it might not be completely necessary.
“The application process would probably give us a little more information if it’s someone no one really knows,” Elders said. “But if it’s someone who is a native of the area that everyone has known all their life, we wouldn’t need to do much of a background check.”
Also, those with an interest do usually make that interest known.
“I think in a lot of cases the people most interested come forward,” he said.