Advisory Committee Roles and Expectations
The General Role of Athens-Clarke County's Advisory Boards and Committees
Advisory committees are a structured way for individual citizens to share their opinions and perspectives, study issues, and develop recommendations in a focused, small group structure.
The primary purpose of advisory committees is to provide judicious advice, from a citizen perspective, to the Mayor and Commission which is the Unified Government's elected policy-making body.
Advisory committee activities may include study of critical issues, hearing public testimony, independent research, and review of staff reports and recommendations - all of which are intended to enable the committee to discuss, formulate, and forward well-developed, thoughtful recommendations to the Mayor and Commission in a timely manner.
Mayor and Commission Decision Making
In making decisions, the Mayor and Commission considers general citizen comment, advisory committee recommendations, staff recommendations, Mayor and Commission priorities and goals, research and background information, and individual Commissioner perspectives.
The Mayor and Commission expects to receive recommendations from advisory committees that reflect the individual and collective knowledge and thinking of the committee, particularly from a citizen perspective. Your recommendations may be transmitted as part of the staff report or as a distinct memorandum or report either attached to the staff report or transmitted separately to the Mayor and Commission. The staff liaison for your committee can assist with this effort; and in all cases, a copy of your recommendation or report should be filed with both the staff liaison for your committee and with the Clerk's Office, as it is a public record.
The Mayor and Commission also expects that staff will present recommendations from their respective professional perspectives. There may be times when the professional opinions and recommendations of staff differ in part or in whole from yours or that of the committee, and that's okay. Differences of perspective in policy formulation and deliberation are inherent in the work of an organization that welcomes diverse viewpoints.
There also may be times when your advisory committee's recommendations will not prevail or will be modified by the Mayor and Commission. It is important to recognize that this is not a rejection of the integrity of the recommendation, but is an inevitable part of the process of municipal decision making where a variety of views, perspectives, and recommendations are considered.
Expectations for Advisory Committee Members
It is expected that:
- All advisory board and committee meetings are to be conducted in public session and noticed in accordance with State law, unless otherwise advised by the Athens-Clarke County Attorney.
- Individual committee members and the collective group will be fair, impartial and respectful of the public, staff, and each other.
- Committee members will respect the limitations of their individual and collective authority. The role of the committee is to advise the Mayor and Commission and/or staff. Please keep in mind that committee appointment does not empower you to make final decisions, unless authorized by State law or the group's enabling ordinance, or to supervise staff.
- Members will strive to appreciate differences in approach and point of view, whether from each other, the community, the Mayor and Commission, or staff.
- Each member will participate in the group's discussions and work assignments, without dominating the discussion or activity of the committee.
- The committee chair will ensure that all members have a fair, balanced and respectful opportunity to share their knowledge and perspectives.
- The committee will attempt to reach consensus on issues. If consensus is not possible, strong differing opinions such as "minority" opinions should be recorded and acknowledged in the committee's report to the Mayor and Commission.
- There are "no surprises" from the Committee either in the nature of the work being undertaken by the committee or the method and timing for conveyance of recommendations to the Mayor and Commission. The staff liaison fulfills an important role in assisting the committee in this regard.
- Any comments to the media about the Committee's work should be channeled through the Chair. If there is appropriate balance on the Committee, not all members would share an identical perspective. When an individual member, other than the Chair, is giving their perspective to the media, it is difficult for the media or average citizens to discern that this may not be the consensus opinion of the Committee. This is not fair to the Committee or the process.
- When a consultant is retained by the Unified Government as part of the Committee's work, the consultant will be managed by staff as there is a contractual obligation between the Unified Government and the consultant. Additionally, the consultant will need to have a single point of contact for the engagement. The Committee will act in an advisory role and work with the consultant and staff to accomplish the charge provided by the Mayor and Commission.
Please be careful to not deliberate about Committee work and issues via personal e-mail or in unnoticed "side meetings or gatherings" as these actions may be in violation of open meeting laws. The Attorney is available to consult with or provide advice to committees in this regard and on any other legal issue.
Each Athens-Clarke County advisory board, commission, or committee has an assigned staff liaison. The word liaison is used deliberately by the Unified Government to describe the nature of the staff role in relation to the committee, instead of the phrase "committee staff." A liaison is defined as "one who maintains communication."
While Athens-Clarke County committee liaisons have some differing duties, depending on past committee practice, time availability, and departmental resources, in general staff liaison are responsible for:
- Ensuring that meeting notifications and recordkeeping occurs consistent with applicable State laws.
- Serving as a communication link between the committee, administration, departments, and the Mayor and Commission, as appropriate.
- Providing professional guidance, issue analysis and recommendations.
- Assisting the committee with research, report preparation, and correspondence in keeping with the committee's Mayor and Commission-approved charge and depending on their work load and time availability.
- Making sure the intent of the advisory committee is not lost after a decision, and that it is conveyed to the Mayor and Commission in a timely manner.
- Assisting the advisory committee in staying on track and focused.
- Presenting advisory committee recommendations to the Mayor and Commission, if requested to do so by either the committee or the Mayor and Commission.
- Maintaining a positive working relationship with the Chair and committee members.
The liaisons are staff professionals with significant work responsibilities in addition to their committee liaison activities. In general, the liaisons are individuals who have significant staff responsibilities that relate to the same work area as the committee. The liaisons do not work "for" or "at the direction of" the committee. They are professionals who work with the committee to develop information and recommendations for Mayor and Commission consideration.