Garden City Commissioner Nancy Harness made a thought-provoking point during a recent City Commission meeting.
On Tuesday, commissioners faced the rare task of filling an open seat on the governing body. Longtime Commissioner Reynaldo Mesa stepped down after winning a seat in the Kansas Legislature, and is headed to Topeka as a representative for Garden City.
Rather than leave the seat unfilled until the next election in April, commissioners chose to seek applicants from the city.
Ideally, they would have been flooded with bids from citizens interested in helping to guide their community.
Instead, just four people stepped forward: Dan Fankhauser, a local architect who had served many years on the local Planning Commission; Liz Sosa, a manager at Inkt Graphics and former business retention director at the Finney County Economic Development Corp.; Roy Cessna, a public information coordinator for USD 457 and Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce ambassador; and Jason Drohman, an information technology employee at Western State Bank and chairman of the Golf Advisory Board.
Kudos to all who showed interest at a time too few citizens participate in their government.
In the end, Fankhauser received the nod from commissioners in a 3-1 vote. Harness was the lone dissenter, but not because she didn't think Fankhauser was capable.
Rather, she had hoped to see the City Commission seize the opportunity to add someone who would change the makeup of the group to help it better reflect Garden City's diversity. Mesa was the lone Hispanic on the five-member Commission in a community now considered majority-minority, which means minorities outnumber non-Hispanic whites.
"I think we've got the Anglo-Saxon male thing covered," Harness, the only woman on the Commission, said Tuesday.
She had a point.
Governing bodies should indeed reflect the communities they serve, and it's not discriminatory to think in such a way.
Boards, committees and leadership teams are most effective when they mirror the people they serve. Unfortunately, it's common for women and people of racial minorities to be proportionally under-represented on government and nonprofit boards.
The problem isn't limited to women and minorities, though. The disabled and younger adults also are under-represented.
Diverse boards encourage thoughtful, informed decision-making on issues that affect all constituents. Members of different backgrounds with a variety of life experiences can provide insight into the needs and wishes of more people in their communities.
Diverse boards also maintain accountability to those they serve. Anyone currently on a board, from the grassroots level on up, should look around the room and see whether their groups pass that litmus test.
But that's not to say more qualified people always should be passed over in favor of candidates with characteristics that enhance a group's diversity.
Commissioners no doubt voted for Fankhauser because they believed the 66-year-old's experience gave him a notable edge. It is easy to see how Fankhauser, a lifelong Garden City resident, was a solid choice.
His family has invested significant time and resources in the community, so he undoubtedly would work hard to see Garden City succeed. Plus, thanks to 22 years of service on the Planning Commission, he has an above-average understanding of the workings of local government.
He should be a good commissioner, regardless of his age, race and gender.
At the same time, the hope is the other three applicants maintain an interest in government service. After all, there's another city election in just four months.
As for Harness, her stand in addressing demographics and diversity no doubt struck some people the wrong way.
Instead, her words were welcome food for thought in a community where local boards and organizations always should consider how their own makeup can benefit the decision-making process, and in turn the community as a whole.
E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at firstname.lastname@example.org.