More civic interest needed: Boards, committees let county residents get involved

  • Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2013 1:05 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, January 20, 2013 1:44 a.m.
Andy Mooney/Salisbury Post illustration
Some boards, such as the Nursing Home Advisory Committee shown here, could use more volunteers to fill open seats. This panel has seven members and needs 10 to 15 members to help make visits to the county’s nursing homes.
Andy Mooney/Salisbury Post illustration Some boards, such as the Nursing Home Advisory Committee shown here, could use more volunteers to fill open seats. This panel has seven members and needs 10 to 15 members to help make visits to the county’s nursing homes.

SALISBURY — From agriculture to zoning, Rowan County appoints advisory boards, committees or commissions that deal with dozens of different topics.

A few, like the planning and library boards, tend to have several applicants clamoring for the chance to help make decisions that influence county government.


But others have trouble finding just one applicant for each of its open seats.

The county’s Historic Landmarks Commission hasn’t met in about a year, because it doesn’t have enough people left to make a quorum — the majority required for it to meet.

The board is officially made up of seven members, but only three of those positions are currently filled. The county has posted and reposted the vacancies, and no one else has applied.

“The biggest problem is the lack of civic interest in general,” said Reid Walters, a Spencer alderman, who serves on both the landmarks commission and the county’s Parks and Recreation Commission. “Some of the commissions have had to drop their total number of members in order to get quorums.”

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners makes appointments to nearly 70 boards and advisory committees like the landmarks commission.

About 20 of these groups are appointed entirely by the county, and they advise county commissioners and staff on issues related to their particular topics. The planning board makes recommendations about rezonings and conditional use permits, for example, and the parks commission keeps up with the needs of the county’s recreation facilities.

Another 35 are boards of trustees and fire commissioners for the county’s volunteer fire departments. The rest are combined boards that include municipal, state or other appointments.

“On some of these boards, we have a lot of people with a lot of interest in wanting to serve,” said County Manager Gary Page. “For some boards, we find it somewhat difficult. ... What you end up doing is you reappoint some of those people.”

County commissioners have set a limit of two terms for their appointments, but they have often waived that limit if there is no competition for a seat.

“If there’s not even one applicant, and they reposted it and there’s still no applicants, the only thing to do is to put the person on there who’s shown a desire to be on that board,” Page said.

He said the county wants to have people on its boards that are genuinely interested in serving, but “if they keep appointing the same people, there are people who never get a shot at serving on that board.”

• • •

Two boards that have a continual need for more volunteers are the Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee and the Nursing Home Advisory Committee.

That could be because the members not only attend quarterly meetings and training sessions but also commit to about eight hours per month of volunteer time.

“What these committee members do is work with the paid omsbudsman of the state of North Carolina to monitor residents’ rights in long-term care facilities,” said Patricia Cowan, a paid ombudsman with Centralina Agency on Aging. “Committee members must reside in Rowan County, and they must be able to travel to each of the long term care facilities in county with their assigned subcommittee.”

Each of the county’s 10 nursing homes and 11 adult care facilities must be visited once per quarter, so the groups split up into subcommittees that each make official visits to a handful of them.

“We take a pad and pencil, we separate, we ask (residents) how the food is, and we ask about the staff and if they’re well taken care of,” said Barbara Mallett, East Spencer mayor, who serves on the nursing home committee. “We see if the hallways are uncluttered so people can get through, and things like that.”

The volunteers then fill out a standard form and report their findings back to Cowan, who then offers corrective measures if a problem is found. The members also are encouraged make additional friendly visits or activity visits to see the residents.

“I joined because I felt that the residents didn’t have a voice,” Mallett said. “Sometimes with the things that we hear, we can give them some resources as to how we can help them.”

Mallett said she’s noticed an improvement in some facilities in Rowan County since she began serving on the nursing home committee.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in appearance and how they’ve made it more like a home for residents,” Mallett said. “It’s not an institution anymore. It’s a home away from home.”

Members Leah McFee, of Spencer, and Virginia Graves, of Salisbury, both used to work for the Salisbury VA hospital before retiring and joining the board.

“We had such good volunteers there, so I thought when I retired I would do some volunteer work to pay back,” said McFee, who has served on the board since 1998. “I think it’s a very rewarding thing, not monetarily, but just to know that you’re doing something that’s helping people.”

Graves said she was invited by McFee and another board member to join in 1999.

“It was interesting, because I was interested in nursing homes and residents and all of that, to make sure they were getting care,” Graves said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in my retirement. ... It’s been very good, very rewarding.”

When volunteers are first appointed to either committee, they must go through a total of 15 hours of assessment and training through the Centralina Agency on Aging. They also receive ongoing training throughout their time on the board.

Graves and McFee said they enjoy the chance to learn more about issues facing older adults in long-term care. Some of their friends, neighbors and church members are residents of nursing homes, so they like that they’re helping people they care about.

But after more than a decade each as committee members, they said they would appreciate a little more help — and maybe the chance to relax after their current term is up.

“I’ve been on it a long time, and I’ll soon be 83 years old,” Graves said. “I’m still going pretty good and all, but I’m on a number of other things, too. I could almost be called a professional volunteer.”

• • •

When the Landmarks Commission stopped meeting, Walters said, it was in the beginning stages of working on a driving tour of churches throughout the county. A special map would help residents and visitors find local historic churches and learn a little about them.

“The goal of the commission is economic development, with a focus on historic landmarks we have in the county,” Walters said.

The group helps to bring more attention to these landmarks and recommends new ones for county certification, which can give them tax-free status as a nonprofit.

He said the last certified county historic landmark that the commission recommended was Zion Organ Lutheran Church, which county commissioners approved in September 2011.

“What I was working on is getting certification for churches, because they’re already nonprofit and exempt from county taxes,” he said.

Walters, a history teacher, said he first joined the board because of his interest in local history.

“There’s a lot we could do with this board if we get the right people,” he said. “There’s tons of directions we could go in.”

The county also has vacancies on the Industrial Facilities and Pollution Control Finance Authority, a state-mandated board that determines whether a potential new industry seeking revenue bonds would benefit the county and would not cause loss of other jobs.

Member Joel Johnson said the board also helps with the financing of industrial and manufacturing facilities that will provide more job opportunities or raise the average wage.

“I was just appointed in July 2012 and we have not been called upon as of yet,” Johnson wrote in a Facebook message. “If a company was seeking revenue bonds, we would be required to meet and approve it.”

No matter which board they choose, it’s good for residents to get more involved in decisions made for Rowan County, Walters said.

“It’s an easy way to give back to the county, and it can be interesting,” he said. “You can find a board that falls within any interest.”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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