The problems facing our community are significant. Regrettably, government is constantly short of funds for activities such as basic maintenance let alone ambitious projects geared to the future, such as improving infrastructure. Since the passage of Proposition 13, the ability to raise taxes or impose fees has become challenging. And when it comes to programs that serve the public, government increasingly relies on the non-profit sector to offer them.
Government’s use of paid consultants has increased, and the costs associated with hiring consultants are high. Consultants are generally required when a certain level of experience or expertise is needed for the analysis of a project, a problem or an opportunity. The hiring of a cannabis consultant at $20,000 to assist the City of Sonoma in identifying the issues associated with allowing cannabis dispensaries is a current example, but just one of many.
Our community is filled with exceptional, experienced and talented people, yet in helping to solve problems or plan for the future, this resource is mostly untapped, but it does not have to be this way. From accounting and finance to environmental law and policy, the surrounding pool of talent is enormous. There are undoubtedly many highly qualified people who, like so many others in the community, would be delighted to volunteer their time and talent, if only they were asked.
We see a great opportunity being squandered, and that at a time of increasing challenges. For example, a recent analysis of city financial reporting by the City Manager indicates a shortage of qualified candidates for finance department positions, leaving that department chronically understaffed. Accordingly, software the city purchased to help manage finances is not being used as well as it could be due to a lack of training. We’ll bet a local, experienced finance professional would be pleased to volunteer to help the city gain the knowledge it needs.
While the city’s various commissions offer substantial expertise and advice, such as the Community Services and Environment Commission, their time is taken up with the usual assortment of agenda items for which they are responsible. Alternatively, there’s an opportunity to form short-term, specialized citizens’ committees to address specific issues and to make recommendations. Such volunteer-based “blue ribbon” committees, made up of specialists in narrowly defined fields, offer another way of helping the community and government solve its serious problems and seize positive opportunities.
Too often, the role of citizen is relegated to complaining rather than helping. We are not disparaging complaint; on the contrary, taking the time and making the effort to speak up takes time and often courage. Rather, we are advocating that opportunities for citizens to help need to be increased, and government can play a huge role in that by encouraging the formation of short-term, volunteer bodies to address a range of issues. Citizens, after all, are not a nuisance or inconvenience to be tolerated, but a fantastic resource of time and talent yearning to make a positive contribution to our community’s future.