RBC | As taxpaying citizens in small communities, we are surrounded by boards of directors and those who serve on them. Between school boards, town boards, recreation, hospital, cemetery, fire and library district boards, it’s hard to go more than a few days without hearing about some decision some board made.
During my time as a reporter covering many of these board meetings and my stint on the Rangely School Board I learned a lot about how these boards function, and sometimes how they don’t. One common struggle that stands out between all of the boards is the fight for their directors to remember who it is they really work for.
When you serve on a board meetings can start to blend together. Month after month, year after year, you hear reports from the same supervisors and executive directors. You discuss the issues and make the decisions, which are occasionally big but often mundane. Meeting after meeting you notice the same small handful, if any, of locals who show up to participate in the process and after a while you begin to forget that the reason you are there is to be a voice for those same people who don’t show up. You are there to hold those taxing districts and their CEOs accountable and to sometimes, when necessary, vote against what the district employees ask for, because at the end of the day that district is using taxpayer money and does not have the same profit incentives that a private business does. Over the years I’ve watched many board members fall into the trap of conducting business as if they work for the district, not the other way around. Instead of digging deep into research and asking the really hard questions like; are we overstaffed, is this money going in the right place, what other options are there, they begin to regurgitate whatever the district director tells them and they begin to act like a public relations arm for the district. They truly forget who they represent.
In Rio Blanco County times are tough and they have been for a while. The boom we were told was coming back has yet to show up and most of our taxing districts are feeling the crunch. Many of them have already asked for more tax funding, and for the most part we’ve been pretty good about giving it to them. But in the coming years even the smaller districts that we rarely hear from are going to be faced with budget issues that they will take to the voters. Oftentimes these elections become emotional issues because these districts employ many within our community. My hope is that we have set up boards of directors that are ready to shoulder the challenge of being honest and responsible with the voters and our money. It may turn out to be the case that each of these districts really do require more of our money to stay afloat, and in that case the community will likely, once again, pony up. But I expect that when faced with these hard times, our boards of directors will remember who they work for. I hope that we, as a citizenry, are ready to take on the burden of staying informed and holding our boards accountable while supporting our small districts when we must.
By JEN HILL | firstname.lastname@example.org