Lack of board participation prompts term-limit change

By: By Gavin Stone - Staff Writer
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ROCKINGHAM — The City Council will consider eliminating the term limits for members of three boards because of the difficulty in finding qualified — or willing — candidates on Tuesday.

The terms of office of the Planning and Zoning Board, the Board of Adjustment and Appeals, and the Historic Preservation Board would each be edited to remove language that bars members from being re-appointed to the board more than twice or serving nine consecutive years.

City staff made the recommendation, stating in their comments to the council, “It’s difficult to find citizens with an interest and willingness to serve,” and continued that “this difficulty could be somewhat mitigated if the city council was not limited in reappointing citizens to a maximum of two successive reappointments.”

“It’s a sign of the times,” said Mayor Steve Morris. “Many people just don’t participate in things like they once did.”

Appointments are made by the city council and mayor, and Morris said the jobs are so specialized and the rules about who can serve are so specific that it’s hard to find qualified candidates.

Assistant City Manager and Planning Director John Massey said there have been month-long gaps between a member resigning and their replacement being found in the past, as well as instances where all the necessary appointments weren’t made at the June meeting. However, Massey said, these gaps haven’t had any impact on the board’s ability to perform its duties.

“In larger communities (having a limit on a member’s reappointments) may not be an issue” because of the availability of qualified candidates as opposed to small-population municipalities, Massey said. He added that the time commitment for members varies depending on what issues are coming up for the board to deliberate.

There are eight seats on the Planning Board, five regular seats and three alternates for the Board of Adjustments and Appeals and seven seats on the Historical Preservation Board.

The state law on the tenure of members sets the length of a member’s term at a three-year maximum, but does not specify how many times members can be reappointed, according to Massey. He said the most difficult board to find qualified candidates for is the Historical Preservation Board, which has more strict rules.

North Carolina General Statute 160A-400.7 on the requirements of HPB members reads: “A majority of the members of such a commission shall have demonstrated special interest, experience, or education in history, architecture, archaeology, or related fields. All the members shall reside within the territorial jurisdiction of the municipality …”

There are two Planning Board members who have hit the nine-year cap this year. Asked if there was concern that the rule change would prevent interested candidates from seeking a seat on the board, Massey said the rule change is “not intended to have the same people serve.”

Morris said making sure the members of each board are the best candidates available is “always a concern” and that board members “would not be reappointed if they weren’t performing.”

Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]

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By Gavin Stone

Staff Writer