Bozeman City Hall File

The sun sets on Bozeman City Hall on Feb. 3, 2021.

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Bozeman officials are looking to drastically reduce the number of citizen advisory boards.

The city has 40 citizen advisory boards, from the planning board to the cemetery advisory board. With each having roughly seven seats, there are about 280 members of the boards handling anything from site design reviews to discussing bike safety in Bozeman.

The result, City Manager Jeff Mihelich said, is a system where residents may not be able to keep track of different issues as they are discussed during one of myriad board meetings, and city staff have to juggle onboarding and communications with hundreds of volunteer board members.

The city is looking to reduce the current slate to a dozen “super boards” based on the broad subject areas they address.

“We have a number of different boards already….We have a lot of crossover between them,” Mihelich said during a city commission meeting Tuesday. “I think sometimes stakeholders and others can be confused why individual topics can be discussed and reasoned by three different boards.”

For example, the planning and zoning board could be combined into one, Mihelich said, allowing there to be one place for residents to go to hear about a development, rather than having to attend one meeting for the zoning discussion and another for the building design.

City commissioners previously identified board reorganization as a priority for 2021. Commissioner Michael Wallner acknowledged the changes might be ”painful” for some but said it is necessary.

“As we move to become a large city, I don’t think we have a choice but to deal with some of this change from a leadership perspective,” Wallner said.

Mihelich said he is going to work with current board chairs to get input on which categories they think their boards duties fall into. Some will remain standalone committees, and others might have their current responsibilities divided between multiple boards.

The city commission will have another work session on the matter in April or May, Mihelich said. The board reorganization would then have to be codified. The goal is to have the new “super boards” underway in December, Mihelich said.

Beyond reducing the bloat of the city’s advisory boards, officials are also looking to focus on increasing diversity on the boards. Mihelich suggested the commission consider term limits for board members and a recruitment process that intentionally focused on diversity.

“I don’t say this is good or bad, but boy you have folks that have been on some of your advisory boards for a long time,” Mihelich said. “We appreciate the value of their service, but every now and then I think there’s an advantage to having some generational differences on your board.”

Current board members could be encouraged to apply for the reorganized super boards, Mihelich said.

Gallatin City-County Board of Health member and city commission candidate Christopher Coburn said diversity doesn’t just happen and encouraged the city to have more firm diversity requirements.

“If you’re going from more opportunities for people to actually have a seat at the table to fewer opportunities to have a more meaningful seat at the table, that’s going to increase competition and so I think you’ll have to look at mandating … what that inclusion is going to look like,” Coburn said. “Not just through an intention, not just through a hope, not just through a public awareness campaign but actually saying we want to see some of this happen and so we’re going to mandate it.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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