Getting involved in local government I

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

Over the course of the past year, I have written a number of articles describing the responsibilities and duties of the more than twenty different boards and commissions that exist to help govern the city of Sidney. Those include such diverse groups as the Municipal Airport Advisory Board, the Tree Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

In fact, there is either a board or commission for nearly every aspect of governmental operations. Those boards and commissions involve more than 80 volunteers who serve terms ranging from three to six years.

Many communities are finding it increasingly difficult to find volunteers to fill openings that occur. There are a host of reasons, but in large part, it is due to the fact that people are busier than ever. They consider their “free” time to be precious.

After a full day’s work, it may seem like a real waste of that precious time to spend it at a board or commission meeting, away from family. The net result is that the available population of volunteers diminishes and boards soon discover they find it increasingly difficult to replace retiring members.

The unfortunate result is that many communities may end up being managed by a small group of the same folks for a very long time. Sidney has been fortunate. While we have a dedicated group of individuals who have served for a long period of time and we also have a cadre of newly appointed individuals who are serving as volunteers on local boards and commissions for the very first time.

Noteworthy examples of longevity include Mary Jannides, who has served on the Parks and Recreation Board since Nov. 20, 1972, Tom Ehler, who has served on various boards and is currently the chair of the Planning Commission, is a member of Zoning Board, and whose first appointment was on Oc. 1, 1982, Karl Bemus, who has served on the Civil Service Commission since Jan. 31, 1974, and the Personnel Board of Appeals since Dec. 15, 1980, and James Daniel, who has served on the Compensation Commission since Oct. 1, 1978, and who retired at the end of last month (Sept. 30, 2018.)

Examples of individuals who are serving on one of our boards or commissions for the first time include Maggi Williams, who was recently appointed to serve her first term on the Compensation Commission, Tim Weaver and Blaine Miller, who were recently appointed to the Airport Advisory Board, Dmitri Williams, who was recently appointed to the Metropolitan Housing Authority Board, and Rick Steenrod, who was recently appointed to the Tree Board.

Boards such as the Tree Board or Recreation Board are advisory boards. Advisory boards are designed to provide advice and recommendations to the City Council on a variety of matters of public concern.

Quasi-judicial boards, such as the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, perform functions in a manner similar to courts, but more informally. Their powers are limited to a very specific area of expertise and authority and usually depend on a pre-determined set of guidelines or criteria to assess the nature and gravity of the permission or relief sought, or of the offense committed.

There are a few boards that rarely meet. Boards such as Stormwater Appeals Board and the Revolving Loan Fund Committee fit that category, but must be kept at the ready (not unlike a fire department) so that when they are needed, they are prepared to meet and to act.

The time and expertise these numerous volunteer citizens lend to our governing process is greatly appreciated and has been over the years. Our local government will continue to require the assistance of citizens to address the challenges and opportunities facing our community.

When a board vacancy occurs, the appointing authority (usually the mayor with city council approval or city council as a whole) uses several methods to find a suitable candidate. One of those methods is a review of volunteer forms kept on file.

Individuals interested in being considered for a Board appointment should complete and submit to the city clerk the Board and Commission Member Volunteer Form. Those forms are available online at

In most cases there are a few simple requirements to fill a board vacancy. Some boards require residency within the city limits or in specific wards, others do not. Some boards require prior expertise necessary to accomplish the board’s objectives, while others allow for a broader background. A reputation for integrity and community service, along with an enthusiastic interest in the board’s area of service is critical for long-term success.

Finally, some boards require a greater time commitment than others and citizens should have sufficient time available to prepare for and attend meetings. These volunteer positions, all unpaid, give citizens an opportunity to serve their community and provide valuable input to activities which affect Sidney’s vitality, both today and in the future.

Sidney, like every community, requires individuals willing to give of themselves unselfishly. As long-time volunteer Tom Ehler recently said: “Volunteering with the city has been a truly rewarding experience.”

Those individuals interested in learning more about the city’s boards and commissions or those wishing to obtain volunteer form should contact the city clerk’s office by phone at 937-498-8143 or by e-mail at

In a future article, I’ll write about serving on City Council, and the election process.

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.