With 19 current and upcoming vacancies on its 20 advisory boards, the city has taken an unusual step: It has issued a public appeal for volunteers.
City Hall released a statement last week asking residents to consider serving on its boards.
It has always advertised openings in the daily newspaper, but a public appeal is rare. In fact, City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadelini, who oversees the advisory boards, can’t remember the last time it happened.
“Nineteen (vacancies) is higher than normal,” she said. “But it could just be a matter of timing, with some terms expiring in November.”
Nadelini said it’s difficult to find volunteers who can take time away from full-time jobs and family.
“It requires time and commitment,” she said. “It becomes a balancing act.”
But she said the work the boards do is important to the city and its citizens.
“They are voices that see problems and issues every day,” Nadelini said. “(City Hall) can’t see everything. They are our eyes and ears throughout the community.”
A current lack of volunteers is not confined to the city. Sarasota County lists 55 current and upcoming vacancies on its 40 advisory boards.
One of the county’s advisory board liaisons, Chris Kohatsu, said many board members find it difficult to confine their communications to board meetings.
Advisory boards have to adhere to Sunshine Laws that prevent communications between members outside of scheduled meetings.
“It’s not like a homeowners association, where you can meet over coffee,” Kohatsu said. “(The difference) is hard. People who want to be involved want to connect (with other people).”
Susan Chapman, an attorney who chaired the Police Advisory Panel and currently serves as the chairwoman of the Planning Board, said serving on a board is time-consuming.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “(The Police Advisory Panel) was like a second full-time job.”
With only evening meetings scheduled, she frequently has to skip dinner and snack on peanut butter and crackers during five-minute breaks.
Chapman, though, said despite the demands on her time, serving on the advisory boards is worth the effort.
“I feel a certain civic responsibility,” she said. “I love the community, and you feel like you’re representing (the community).”
Sarasota, said Nadelini, is rich with volunteers, such as Chapman, who want to better the city.
“We’re very fortunate to have the level of volunteers we have,” she said. “They’re very committed, and they truly care about the city.”
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org