Alachua County has 32 active advisory boards that need 267 citizens to completely fill. These citizens give input on different topics, from the Wild Spaces Public Places Citizen Oversight Committee to the Human Rights Board and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Board.
Vacancies abound for Alachua County residents with 64 open spots split between 23 different boards. Some boards need only one additional member while others need three or more.
Assistant county manager Gina Peebles said the number of vacancies typically changes every second and fourth Tuesday when the commissioners appoint new members during its regular meeting.
Any Alachua County resident can apply for a vacancy as long as they fulfill the requirements for that particular position. And all the positions and requirements are listed online, along with term lengths and contact information.
For example, the Affordable Housing Advisory Commission has one vacancy for a resident who is actively engaged as a realtor in connection with affordable housing. An opening on the Wild Spaces Public Places Citizen Oversight Committee only requires the applicant to be a citizen of a municipality in Alachua County other than Gainesville.
In a phone interview, Peebles said the advisory boards alway have vacancies and the current level wasn’t abnormal.
“I think sometimes it’s just a lack of knowing that there’s an opportunity available,” Peebles said.
She said the advisory boards provide a way for citizens to directly impact their community and learn about what is happening in the community.
Peebles oversees three different boards: the Wild Spaces Public Places Citizen Oversight Committee, Alachua County Arts Council and the Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee. She said each board operates based on the rules set up by the board of commissioners.
The Wild Spaces Public Places board only meets as needed to analyze the financial reports of Alachua County’s municipalities and determine if the spending fits the guidelines of the Wild Spaces Public Places tax. If the board runs across spending that seems out of place, it reports the information to the commissioners for further action.
“Sometimes, the cities have repaid some money, and we’ve always worked it out up to this point,” Peebles said.
This year, the vetting process took three meetings.
“[Advisory boards] are able to take a deep dive into a myriad of topics that the board doesn’t have the time to look at those things in depth,” Peebles said.
She illustrated with a recent choice the board of commissioners made concerning art proposals.
The discussion and vote lasted hours. Had the Arts Council not narrowed down the proposals to begin with, the commissioners would need to spend even more time on the selection process.
Cindy Bishop serves as the staff liaison for the Health Care Advisory Board. She said the work of the board and its 20 members is important.
“Healthcare is always a vital need for everyone,” she said in a phone interview.
The board looks for healthcare coverage gaps in the county and keeps an eye on reports from other agencies, keeping track of current programs and resources.
Not just anyone can join the board, a number of the positions are specialized for only a mental health professional, pharmacist or nurse.
Bishop said this ensures that healthcare professionals get a seat at the table because they’re the ones whose expertise the county needs.
Currently, the Health Care Advisory Board needs eight additional members to fill out its 20 person capacity. The positions include an attorney or representative of the legal profession and a low-income or medicaid eligible health care consumer.
Jacqueline Chung oversees the Citizens Disability Advisory Committee and uses their guidance in her role as equal opportunity manager of Alachua County.
The committee analyzes new county construction plans from the point of view of residents with disabilities. If needed, the committee can work to alter construction plans to assist those citizens.
“It’s important to have that input by people directly impacted by those issues,” Chung said.
Once a resident applies, the board of commissioners will vote to approve or deny. Some advisory board positions receive a number of applications while others only draw a few.
Even if a resident doesn’t get approved for the position, the county keeps the application on file for a year and will let the applicant know if another position opens.
“Just do it; just apply and get involved,” Peebles said. “I mean it’s really eye-opening.”