The Garden City Telegram
1/12/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Diverse quest

Makeup of boards affects decision-making process.

A retired fire investigator stepped up again to serve his community.

Melvin Dale was one of seven residents who applied to fill the Garden City Commission seat vacated by John Doll, who's on his way to Topeka to serve as state representative for Garden City.

The city commission publicly sought applicants before choosing the individual they felt would best serve the community until the next election, set for April 2.

Dale has indicated he'll seek a full term. He's to be commended for a willingness to serve at a time too few people want to do as much. Ditto for the others who expressed interest in the open seat.

But as welcome as their interest was, there's still something to be desired in the makeup of our local governing bodies.

We know boards are most effective when they reflect the communities 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.

Neither the Garden City Commission nor Finney County Commission — both with five white male members — pass such a test in our diverse community.

And it's not discriminatory to want a governing body to reflect the community it serves.

Diverse boards have a way of encouraging 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.

Unfortunately, it's common for women and racial minorities to be proportionally under-represented on government and nonprofit boards. Disabled and younger adults also are under-represented.

It also would help if more people from those various backgrounds would try to get involved.

That's not to say qualified people always should be passed over in favor of candidates with characteristics that enhance a group's diversity. Indeed, each current commissioner brings unique experiences and skills to their respective group.

The demographic makeup of a board should, however, at least be a consideration when choosing people to serve — especially in a community accustomed to citing its diversity as a strength.