With the stated goal of enhancing efficiency and easing the city staff's workload, the Durango City Council is considering a plan to reduce the number of city advisory boards and commissions. It is an excellent idea, one the council should consider expanding upon.
That is all the more true because streamlining the city's organizational chart also could allow residents to more easily understand municipal government and the role individuals can play in its decision making. Tracking the city's processes now is unnecessarily difficult.
The city currently has 19 boards and commissions, with duties ranging from obvious to ambiguous, performing functions that vary from clearly essential to probably unnecessary. (The whole list is available at www.durangogov.org/boards/list.cfm.) It could do with fewer. Boulder, a city with more than five times the population of Durango, has 20 such boards, while Montrose, about Durango's size, has six.
The change being discussed would consolidate the Parks, Open Space and Trails, or POST board, the Parks and Forestry board, the Open Space Advisory Board and the Recreation Advisory Board into two boards. One would focus on natural lands. The other would look at parks and recreation.
Likewise, the Design Review Board could be merged with the Established Neighborhood Design Review Board and the Land Use and Development Code Board of Appeals. That is likely to be done in conjunction with the city's rewrite of its Land Use Development Code, expected to be complete in about 18 months.
The savings are obvious. Every board meeting needs to be noticed and recorded. Minutes must be taken. Staff members and City Council liaisons need to attend. Doing all that for three boards instead of seven saves time and money, and frees staff time for other duties.
Beyond that, consider how much more transparent and accessible city government could become. Can anyone not directly involved really explain how the functions and responsibilities of the four POST-related boards differ?
The land-use side is just as convoluted. If a property owner wants a variance to do something to a home or business, how many residents could name the board that first hears the application? Is it the Design Review Board, the Neighborhood Design Review Board or the Planning Commission? And the appeal? Does that go to the LUDC Board of Appeals, or to the City Council?
Having fewer boards could make things simpler and easier for the public to understand. So, why not take it even further? Out of the remaining 12 boards and commissions, how many more could also be combined or disbanded?
Including public-spirited volunteers in city government is worthwhile. As the city's Web site says, "Becoming a member of a board or commission is an excellent way to become active in the decision-making process of City government and offers citizens an opportunity to provide expertise in areas of individual interest."
With too many boards, however, there is also the risk that some will become more representative of particular groups than of the community as a whole. Likewise, overlapping areas of responsibility encourages disagreements be-tween the boards. That presents an unnecessarily confused picture to the councilors who must actually decide what action to take.
The City Council is on the right track in considering how to lessen the number of advisory boards it must track. Nineteen is too many.