Guest Commentary

Time to change Sedgwick County’s process for appointments to boards

On Sept. 4, County Commissioner Lacey Cruse brought forward a most interesting proposal. She proposed the Sedgwick County Commission approve a written policy on how appointments to the county’s at-large positions on boards and commissions are made.

As explained by Commissioner Cruse, the purpose of such policy is “to promote involvement, raise community awareness, encourage diversity, and ensure transparency.” It is intended to apply to all at-large appointments made by the county.

As former members of the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission we believe this proposal has great merit and is long overdue. We believe it will have a particularly positive impact on the make-up of the MAPC.

The MAPC is a 14-member volunteer board that studies and makes decisions regarding land use planning in Wichita and Sedgwick County. Board members make tough decisions on zone change requests, long-range planning, subdivision rules and many other issues. It is a joint city-county board. The seven Wichita City Council members each have an appointment; the five county commissioners also each have an appointment. However, in order for the county to achieve parity with the city, the county has two at-large positions.

From our experience, these two at-large appointments often served to add representatives from the development industry, ensuring they had outsize influence.

Decisions made by the MAPC have a major impact on how our communities look and function. These decisions often impact local government spending priorities.

The MAPC leads decisions on whether a cell tower will go up in your neighborhood. It sets requirements for subdivisions on drainage, landscaping and connections to other neighborhoods. It guides long-range planning like the current changes to the Delano Neighborhood Plan.

The practice has been for the county’s at-large appointments to be made in an informal, behind-the-scenes fashion, with no notice to the public that an opening existed. The proposed policy would change that, calling for public notice as well as a written application process for interested citizens to follow.

People on boards like the MAPC and other boards spend a lot of time and work hard. And for those who make the effort, such service is an excellent way to gain knowledge and experience which can lead to other leadership roles. Such opportunities should be open to a broader range of our citizens

As pointed out by Commissioner Cruse, these are crucial decisions and should be made by appointees representing the diverse make-up of our entire community. She rightly noted that our younger generation — a cohort we are working hard to retain in Wichita — expect such transparency and diversity in our public boards.

We commend Lacey Cruse for her leadership on this issue. We encourage the County Commission to adopt a process that is more open, that engages the full commission and allows for more diversity.

Elizabeth Bishop represents Kansas’ 88th District. Susan Osborne is a retired professor of business.