Shape Your City: The Power of Local Boards and Commissions in the City of Greenville

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Today we look at how you can have an impact by serving on local boards and commissions in the City of Greenville. Join us as we explore how residents like you can actively shape our city’s future without running for public office. Councilwoman Dorothy Dowe shares insights on the importance, process, and rewards of civic engagement, highlighting the various boards and commissions you can join. Whether you’re a Greenville local or just passionate about community involvement, this episode highlights how you can make a difference.

Links:

Greenville County Boards and Commissions Episode with Liz Seman, Vice Chair of Greenville County Council

Transcript

Katy Smith:
[0:02] Are you interested in serving within government but not quite ready to run for public office?
Joining a public board or commission can be the perfect way to put your knowledge, expertise, and passion to work for your fellow residents.
The City of Greenville will soon be appointing members to seven of its boards and commissions, with applications due by February 1st.
But please know if you’re listening to this after that date, they accept applications year-round. To discuss the City of Greenville’s process, we’re joined today by Councilwoman Dorothy Dowe, who serves in an at-large seat, meaning she represents the entire City of Greenville.
If you don’t live in the City of Greenville, please know that you can serve on a board or commission in your city, or in Greenville County, or even on a legislatively appointed board or commission.
We did an episode with County Councilor Liz Seman about that, and we’ll put links on the episode page for you to learn more about that episode and many other resources.


I’m so pleased to be here today with Councilwoman Dorothy Dowe to talk about boards and commissions in the city of Greenville. Thanks for joining us, Dorothy.

Dorothy Dowe:
[1:06] Thanks for having me. One of my favorite topics.

Katy Smith:
[1:09] I know. Well, you and I are both super excited about civics and residents getting involved in government.
But I think serving on a board and commission doesn’t really occur to people.
Why do you think this poses a really particularly special opportunity?

Dorothy Dowe:
[1:23] You know, I think a lot of people living their daily life, they might not even know they exist.
But I will say that they are becoming more and more prominent as Greenville grows.
And, you know, for example, until I was engaged in neighborhood leadership, you know, I could have pointed towards some names of some, but I certainly didn’t know what they do.
And then after serving on one, you know, that gives you a real look into what they do.
I think the city, we’ve done a really good job of being open about the process, it’s become a lot more, this current Council that we have, in my view and shared by others, when we first came on Council in 2019, it ran very differently in terms of appointments.
We’ve streamlined it a lot more and I think that’s allowed us to advertise, publicly you know be more public about when openings are coming up and what the process is it’s a lot more streamlined and a lot more predictable about when those appointments are made so that’s been a good change.

Katy Smith:
[2:41] That’s great well can you tell us about the array of options to serve?

Dorothy Dowe:
[2:46] Yeah, sure. So the first thing to know is we have a lot of boards and commissions.
Most of them require that you be a resident of the city of Greenville, but not all of them.
And many of them have certain requirements of you. And this is one, it’s sort of a niche market.
So an example of that would be our accommodations tax board.
That board has a lot of qualifications, such as you may have to be a member of the hotelier community.
You may have to be a member of hospitality, like, you know, restauranteurs.
So it has specific, you know, assignments and appointments.
So we have roughly 21 boards and commissions that the city Council makes appointments to and some appointments are actual mayoral appointments.

[3:42] We make appointments in two seasons, per se, a spring and a fall round.
And again, this was to streamline the process so that we weren’t spending absolutely every other Monday doing maybe onesies, twosies, that we’re doing it more collectively, groups in the spring, groups in the fall.
So we’re about to enter the spring round.
And for this round, we have openings coming up. And I want to be clear on this.
An opening means someone on that board or commission’s term is expiring.
Now, what can happen to that person is Council may choose to reappoint them if they’re eligible to serve another term or Council can choose to not reappoint them.
So if they reappoint them, then that was an opening, but they are reappointed.
If they are ineligible to serve another term or Council chooses not to reappoint them, then that obviously is now we’re going to have a new applicant fill that position.
So in this spring, we will have appointments for the art and public places.
Board, the Design Review Board, and this is the Design Review Board that was formerly known as DRB Urban.
They covered design review for the Central Business District for our downtown.
We have the Greenville Airport Commission, the Historic Review Board that used to be known as the Design Review Board Neighborhood. So that’s coming.
Yeah, that’s some lingo change that came with the new code.
And that board oversees design in our neighborhoods with historic overlays.

[5:12] The Municipal Election Commission, the Planning Commission, the Richland Cemetery Advisory Committee, and the Springwood Cemetery Advisory Committee.
I will say many of them, in my view, require specific expertise to even know what’s going on on them.
And that’s really important. I think it’s really important that a board or a commission, that those that serve on it have a certain skill set applicable to that and that what they’re interested in is matched to.
There’s nothing worse than being on a board or a commission and really not enjoying the work.
You know, there is an opportunity to resign, of course, but very few people do that.
You know, people want to fill out their term and do what they committed to do, but it’s really a matchmaking process to a large degree.
And the other thing to understand is that in the city of Greenville, were very lucky.
For the vast majority, the very strong majority of boards and commissions, we have far more applications than we have appointments to make.
So it is a competitive process. And we can talk later on about what that, you know, how to make yourself stand out in the process.

Katy Smith:
[6:18] I think the couple of examples you just gave of places people can serve and the kind of responsibilities involved of those boards or commissions highlights, I mean, these are citizen-led activities that are important to the vibrancy of our community, the art that we see on Main Street or these beautiful historic cemeteries.
And Council’s responsibilities are already very robust.
And so this helps lighten the load and brings more voices into the process. So it really is special.

Dorothy Dowe:
[6:46] Yeah. And I think some of them are, you’ll hear the term quasi-judicial.
So examples of those would be the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals.

[6:58] You know, if everything that went before, for example, the Board of Zoning Appeals came to Council, Council would be meeting every day.
Well, you’d almost have to keep up with, you know, with everything.
But it’s really important to understand that these people on these boards, on every board, serve at the pleasure of Council.
So, we go through a pretty rigorous application interview process, a staff review, and then if after a term, you know, we look at how their service was in that term and what, you know, does it match with the pleasure, they serve at the pleasure of Council, is continuing for them to serve at the pleasure of Council.
It’s not, you know, a reduce the workload, but it’s not our expertise.
So we don’t need to be, you know, reviewing every art in public places that, you know, we have experts on staff and we have experts in the community on that board.

[8:00] And I think engaging the community on these boards and commissions, it’s like tentacles. It gets out.
You know, these people have reach in their communities.
They’re invested in the community. I don’t believe there’s a person on the community that doesn’t want the best for Greenville.
And sometimes their decisions are easy and sometimes they are not easy.

Katy Smith:
[8:26] I remember going through the city’s comprehensive planning process and then the approval of the development code that was led by the planning commission, who are volunteers who fielded, I’m sure, thousands of phone calls and emails and sat through hundreds of hours of testimony and consideration.
Really hard and important work, and it should be hard. I mean, it’s a very important decision, but it’s a big responsibility, and it does mean there’s more voices and thoughts around the table.

Dorothy Dowe:
[8:57] Yeah. And staff, whereas you could say, well, you could just do that with staff.
But, you know, again, these are… the planning commission, to use your example.
If you look at the planning commission and the professional expertise that they bring to the table collectively, it’s really quite remarkable.
Many of them, if not all of them, I’m not sure about some… but many of them if not all of them have lived in this community for a long time. They were involved in the GVL 2040 process. All of those things. So they have a very deep understanding of the vision and that vision was developed through the comprehensive plan, GVL 2040, collectively with a panel.
And they still are very adept at always circling back to that vision, even when they’re down in the weeds on something because of their expertise and because of their experience in the community and because of their dedication to community, they get the big picture.
They might be making a small micro decision, but they get the macro from their experience.

Katy Smith:
[10:07] Yeah, that’s great. Well, so if someone listening is interested in serving, what can they expect from their service, like roles and responsibilities and rewards and challenges?

Dorothy Dowe:
[10:19] Yeah, that’s a great question. So I’ll speak from somewhat from personal experience when I was on the Public Safety Citizens Review Board. I served on that board.
Here’s what you can expect. First off, to go through the nuts and bolts, there is an attendance requirement.

[10:36] Before you even apply, know when the meetings are and are you going to be able to make the attendance requirements. For most, if not all, you will receive a so-called a packet, a packet of information.
So we talked about AIPP, Art in Public Places, or PSCRB, Public Citizens Review Board.
You get a packet of information of the cases or the projects that are going to be considered.
You can imagine the planning commission packet is usually very, very thick.
Art in public places might be very very thin, it might be one project. So, you’re expected to have gone through that packet before the meeting. Staff… I do want to give a shout out for our staff. So every board and commission has a staff liaison and that liaison is your right arm. They are there for you and they are very adept at handling your questions. They really are like the concierge for each member on that board.
They field questions, they get back to them, they, you know, handhold as much or as little as needed and asked for.
And then, of course, attending the meeting. Know when they meet and have a feel for how long they could meet.

Katy Smith:
[11:52] Good. And be prepared to do homework.

Dorothy Dowe:
[11:54] Yeah. You’re going to have a homework assignment, a pre-assignment. Yeah.

Katy Smith:
[11:58] Well, if someone is listening and they think, okay, this sounds like me, how do they go about applying and what can they expect from the application process?
Both what’s written and known and what are some behind-the-scenes tips you might offer?

Dorothy Dowe:
[12:10] For someone that’s interested in applying, they can submit their application online. We have an online application portal, and they are welcome to attach a resume.
All of this is explained in the application process, and that creates a pool of applications for a given board position.
So from there, our staff selects from those paper applications a group of recommendations for interviews.
They may also make a recommendation to reappoint the person who currently holds the position.
And if Council agreed, that person would be reappointed.
Then in that group, I should add, Council always in this process has the ability to add someone in to the interview group.
In other words, the staff might not have picked up on that person, but I would like Council to consider this person as well.
Then that group of people that is recommended for interview, it might be narrowed a little bit from what staff comes through with.
And then that group is interviewed individually by one of two panels, one of two interview panels.
And each panel is comprised of three Council members on those panels.
The at-larges are on two different panels. And it’s going to be random which one you’re going to be interviewed by.

[13:32] And so from there, that interview panel makes a recommendation to the whole Council of who they want to appoint to the position.
And then Council as a whole has to decide, is that a yes or a no?
And then that person, yes or no, that person, we don’t, obviously, if it’s a no, we don’t say that in a public meeting, but in the Council meeting, we’ll make the appointment publicly.

Katy Smith:
[13:52] That’s a really thorough and thoughtful process.

Dorothy Dowe:
[13:54] It’s very thorough. It is very thorough. And it it takes a tremendous amount of time as it should, because they are they are so important to how the city has developed in the past and will continue to develop.

Katy Smith:
[14:09] I can imagine that as you’re looking at these candidates, you’re not just considering this particular person’s skills and interests, but you’re creating a team of people that have an array of skills and perspectives and experiences.
Does that come into play as you weigh candidates?

Dorothy Dowe:
[14:22] It absolutely comes into play, particularly on those quasi-judicial board members.
So if you look at the makeup of the, let’s pick the planning commission again, there are two architects, an interior designer.
There’s a civil engineer. There’s a retired planner.
All of those are unique niche expertise that add value.
So, you know, I really wanted someone on there with stormwater experience, a civil engineer or an environmental engineer that has strong stormwater experience.
And Lynn Solesbee came through the pike, and now he fits that niche.
And when it comes time to talk about stormwater, he is very much engaged on that.
Now, that might not be the expertise of, say, Pam Adams, who’s an interior designer.
But when it comes to overall workability and function and form of the building, you know, that’s where she comes in.
So they all engage in questioning and looking and reviewing, but some are really looking very closely.
And Council, not only staff, but Council feels very strongly about having that broad perspective and professional expertise on boards like that, for sure. That’s very important. Yeah.

[15:42] People should not be disheartened if they are not selected. It’s important to understand that your application remains live for two years.
So we might interview, you know, a group of people and it comes down to two people that are both great, but we have to pick one.
Well, that other is staying in the queue and probably if another appointment is coming up in the next year, they’re probably going to get that one.
You know, now that’s not something that can be shared with them.
They get kind of very black-and-white information on the outcome, the results from our city, our municipal clerk. But take heart.
I cannot think of an example where I’ve interviewed someone where they didn’t get the appointment because they were bad.
You know, it’s just that we… it’s a competitive process.
And maybe somebody was the better pick at that time for what we needed on the commission.

Katy Smith:
[16:34] What is also interesting is everyone listening, if you live within Greenville County, you might first be interested in a city commission or board.
And if you can’t get on that for whatever reason, you are also a resident of the county.
So there might be a county-appointed board or commission you want to take a look at. There are legislatively appointed boards and commissions.
There’s different things that come up at different seasons. So if you’re interested in getting involved, I would encourage you to just keep at it because we need people with passion and interest like you listening.

Dorothy Dowe:
[17:03] We really do. And, we touched on this a little bit.
We talked about rewards. Let’s talk about challenges.
I see in the rearview how much I’ve lived this issue of, you never know when the board or commission you’re serving on can become the front page news.
So for example, I served on the public safety citizens review board.
That board was never on the front page of the news while I was on there.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, that became the most important board and commission in terms of their roles and responsibilities in that moment in time and going forward.
Art in public places.
Most of the time you’re probably reviewing projects, considering how much, you know, the city allocation might help fund it, but sometimes you’re on the front page of the news because you approved an art exhibit.

[18:05] I don’t think that’s anything you can really predict. So I think the takeaway is never think about serving on a board and commission necessarily as a resume builder.
It should always be a labor of love and selfless service because you never know when that board or commission you’re on is all of a sudden the hot button board or commission.
And all of a sudden, to some degree, you are under a magnifying glass.
And what you need to do is serve because it was your passion to serve and for the good of the whole.

Katy Smith:
[18:38] Good. Really great, great point. There’s one really special commission that the city of Greenville has, the Youth Commission.
And Dorothy, I’d love for you to give a little pitch for that for any listeners who themselves are young or who have someone young in their household.

Dorothy Dowe:
[18:52] I’m a big fan of the Youth Commission. I will say, contrary to what I just said a moment ago, I think it’s okay to do the Youth Commission to help with your resume.
But the Youth Commission was set up to help advise city Council on issues and policies and, you know, anything, all things that affect the youth.
So I’ll give a small example. This actually happened long ago before I ever came onto Council, but my understanding is they were a key part of it.
When Council was considering curfews in parks.
You know, who’s going to be the greatest, most affected group?
It’s probably going to be the youth, the high schoolers, the young college students.
So the Youth Commission was consulted at that time to say, what are your thoughts on this?

[19:39] Similarly, as we’ve done our strategic plan and long-term planning for parks in Greenville, you know, I know what I like to do in the parks, but these parks, a lot of what we do are going to be things that the youth are served from.
So we’ve relied heavily on their input and apparently, they were all in when they were you know part of a panel that was discussing the future of the parks. These young students can be as much or as little engaged as they want to be. I get to talk to them about once a year which I really enjoy and my message to them is always we want to hear from you.
They have Tamika Pollard as their staff liaison. She is fantastic and very relatable.
And they know, you know, if there’s something on their wish list or on their what’s bothering them or where do they see opportunity, we want to hear that from them.
Because otherwise, what do we have? You know, my kids are grown and out of the house, so I don’t have that conduit.
And we’re, you know, we’re not necessarily as a Council exposed to students at that age to get their input.
So they’re in a really unique position to provide that.

[20:54] They also are part of our poinsettia parade, rain or shine.
So hats off to them because they’re not riding in that trolley.
They are out there in the cold. They’re really dedicated.
The thing to know about that is it used to be they had to attend a high school in the city of Greenville.
Well, there are two, JL Mann and Greenville High or Christ Church or Charter or St. Joe’s.
But we were really limited in getting a diverse youth commission from that.
So now they can live outside the city, but they do have to attend a city high school. Before, they had to attend a city high school and live in the city.
So for example, if they’re a magnet student at Mann or Greenville High, they don’t live in the city, but they go to a school in the city, then they can apply for the Youth Commission.

Katy Smith:
[21:41] Good. Well, Dorothy, thanks so much for your service and for your passion for boards and commissions.
And we really hope that some of our listeners will find an opportunity to serve in this coming term.

Dorothy Dowe:
[21:53] Absolutely. And listeners should feel free to reach out to any Council member with any questions.
We’re all happy to answer those questions for them. And I just hope people consider doing a little bit of homework, thinking about where their passions lie, and consider applying.

Katy Smith:
[22:06] That’s great. Thank you so much.

Dorothy Dowe:
[22:08] Thank you.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.

Image via Kruck20 from Getty Images Pro on Canva.

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