OGDEN — The city says it’s looking to broaden diversity on the government-appointed citizen boards that advise leadership on a range of issues in Ogden.
Officials from the Ogden City Council and administration are working through a host of changes to the city’s advisory board ordinance, above all to “promote diversity and a public selection process” on the boards, according to council documents.
In Ogden, advisory boards are formed to supply government officials with a boots-on-the-ground perspective on various city-run programs, facilities and institutions. For example, the city has citizen-led advisory boards for things ranging from the Ogden-Hinckley Municipal Airport and the parks and recreation program, to the arts and community and economic development.
Ogden City Council Executive Director Janene Eller-Smith said the council began evaluating existing committees nearly two years ago, hoping to eliminate ones that were no longer needed and give relevant updates to those that were still necessary.
During the review, city council members expressed concern that advisory board membership didn’t always reflect the diverse nature of Ogden’s population. Council members also expressed concern that the process for appointing board members often seemed to be inconsistent and the community wasn’t always made aware when opportunities to serve opened up. Council leadership also met with the city’s Diversity Commission, whose members expressed many similar concerns.
“There was some discussion that started about the makeup of the committees and whether or not they reflected the diversity of our city,” Eller-Smith said.
The issue came to a head in July, nearly two months into the city accepting applications for its Marshall White Advisory Committee, a body that will give guidance to Mayor Mike Caldwell and the council as they eye a long-term plan of action for the more than 50-year-old inner-city rec center. During City Council meetings, some Ogden residents complained about a lack of publicly available information on the committee and what they deemed to be an excessive amount of time to select the committee. Complaints were also lodged about the city failing to better involve the Diversity Commission in the process. The Marshall White board was ultimately filled out in October.
Ogden Attorney Mara Brown said the proposed ordinance includes language that notes it is official city policy that advisory boards are enhanced by considering “all aspects of diversity in the appointment of members.”
The proposed ordinance changes say that in addition to relevant information about a potential board appointee’s skills and experience, things like gender, age, ethnicity, cultural background and other qualities should be factored into appointments. The proposal also calls on the city administration to “establish a process to allow members of the public to express interest in serving on advisory boards.”
“When we talk about diversity, we’re talking about all kinds,” Eller-Smith said. “That could mean diversity of thought, diversity of background, economic diversity, as well as other things we might normally think of like race or ethnicity or gender.”
Council member Angela Choberka questioned what she saw as a lack of specificity in the proposal. The ordinance features the somewhat vague language on the importance of diversity, but does not include quotas or requirements for certain groups.
“How do you address disparities if you’re not able to explicitly spell that out somewhere,” Choberka said.
Eller-Smith said the proposal was negotiated among the council staff, the city administration and legal team and it was ultimately decided the current proposal was the best place to start. With certain advisory boards, Brown and Eller-Smith said, there are limitations in going after diversity because they require specific areas of expertise, knowledge or background.
“That, in and of itself, might limit the number of people that might be suited for a particular position,” Eller-Smith said. “It just becomes a balancing act.”