Council talks on board diversity gain momentum

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — A breakdown of nine active City of Lima boards confirmed what many in the community already knew. Most of those that serve on boards tend be white, male and older.

Lima African American Chamber of Commerce President Tim Callahan said he and the chamber’s board had noticed the discrepancy while doing research on executive boards throughout the city, which prompted them to send surveys to various organizations asking for each board’s demographic makeup.

So far, data is still coming in, but the first wave of information — provided during a Lima City Council committee meeting held Tuesday night to discuss board diversity — laid out the statistical make-up of the boards where city appointees sit.

Seven out of 10 board members are male. Almost 85% are white, and none are under the age of 32.

“This is a problem that is prevalent throughout the entire community on every board,” Councilor Peggy Ehora said. “Thirty percent are women, which is mind-boggling. We need to be thoughtful and mindful so (appointees) reflect the people in this community across all spectrums.”

Typically, the city’s administration provides most appointees spots on city boards with concurrence required by Lima City Council. Most positions also require particular qualifications.

But finding people to serve isn’t always easy, as Council President Nixon said after councilors began to consider potential term limits.

“I just want to chime in here. While term limits sound like a wonderful idea, the reality is getting people interested to serve on boards, it’s not as easy as one would think,” Nixon said.

The committee’s discussion ended up diverging into a few potential recommendations. Since finding qualified people who wish to serve is often done among professional acquaintances, Chair Carla Thompson said better outreach may help.

Both Councilors Derry Glenn and Thompson had received emails from people interested in serving on boards after Monday night’s council meeting, and Thompson said she would have not have considered those individuals if they had not reached out. To make sure such candidates don’t fall in the cracks in the future, some sort of outreach system could be put in place to encourage more diverse candidates to contact the city when a board has a vacancy, she said.

Glenn recommended enacting term limits that could be used to keep a rotation of new people and new ideas.

“I’m glad to see our body going to work on this,” Glenn said. “We do need to reach out on this. We do need to create criteria. Some of (the board appointees) are as old as me.”

Committee members took no official action on the issue Tuesday, but councilors agreed to double back after doing a little more research on what could be changed in the city’s legal code and the potential policy solutions needed to increase board diversity.

Callahan, who spoke at the tail end of the meeting, thanked councilors for taking up the issue. He said the LAACC will be continuing to gather data on boards throughout the county, and that the chamber would like to be involved in the discussions further down the line.

“If we move forward on those comments, we can solve this issue in the very near future. I hope everyone takes this to heart and moves forward with it,” Callahan said.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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