A response to the proposal by the city of Asheville to restructure the city’s advisory boards and commissions [“All a Board: Asheville Seeks to Restructure Citizen Advisory Groups,” March 2, Xpress]:
While acknowledging that improvements in efficiency can be made, the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods believes our current boards and commissions advisory system is the best example of participatory democracy in this city. We believe that reducing 20 advisory boards, manned by 130-plus citizen volunteers, down to four advisory boards of about 40 appointees will only suppress citizen knowledge and participation in our city’s governance.
We believe that this extreme attempt at dismantling this worthwhile system represents an existential challenge to Asheville’s most participatory layer of government, and that if implemented, will result in a less inclusive, less transparent, top-down form of governance that’s not in the public’s best interest.
We believe that inconsistent Council liaison attendance and communications of the work of boards and commissions, along with inconsistent city staff support, all contribute to the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of certain boards. We believe that no matter how inefficient it may feel to Council, they must make the effort to listen to the citizens and incorporate their feedback into city policy.
We know that our current boards and commissions represent an amazing and powerful assemblage of smart, active citizens who care about Asheville and are committed to transparent and inclusive governance. We question what will happen to the institutional knowledge, combined experience and continuity of their work if a board or commission is abruptly dissolved by Council.
Based on these beliefs and the opposition that we are hearing from the community, we believe that this restructuring proposal should be wholeheartedly and transparently challenged.
While we commend the city of Asheville for creating the Restructure Working Group/Pilot and for inviting citizens to participate, we believe simply accepting this city-mandated proposal is not in the best interests of our city. Instead of working to dismantle the current system, we suggest that city of Asheville and Council enlist citizens to help them:
• Conduct a comprehensive assessment of all boards and commissions to determine those that are currently fulfilling their charge and those that are not.
• Create a system to monitor city staff support, Council liaison attendance and Council communication of the proposals created by the boards and commissions to other Council members.
• Make substantial efforts to listen to Asheville residents, incorporate their feedback and update the plan before making any changes to the current system.
— Rick Freeman
President, Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods