ADVISORY GROUPS

County is seeking members for panels

The county has enough boards to appeal to the interests of just about everyone.


Published: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 12:24 a.m.

Facts

AT A GLANCE

If you are interested in being on an advisory committee or would like more information visit Alachua County's Web site at http://www.co. alachua.fl.us/. You may also call Rhonda Baxter at 264-6904.

Jack Hauptman spent a career with the National Park Service, so he's seen his share of beautiful spots.
Now he spends his retirement tramping through the secluded beauty of Alachua County. He couldn't be happier, nor could the County Commission for what Hauptman does.
Hauptman is a member of a county advisory committee - boards of volunteers that are vital to government.
The problem is, more people like Hauptman are needed.
"We've got vacancies. There are a lot of committees and they serve a variety of different functions," said Rhonda Baxter, the county's advisory committee coordinator. "We want citizens to start asking questions and see what we've got that they might be interested in getting involved in. It is their opportunity to have some input on what happens here in the county."
Hauptman is a member of the Land Conservation Advisory Committee, which reviews land that is being considered for purchase under the Alachua County Forever program.
The task is fun, rewarding and a direct way to be involved in the community, Hauptman said.
"As a retired person, this is one way to contribute meaningfully. I think I bring a resume to it. It's important work and it's a privilege to do it," Hauptman said. "I'm having a real say in making sure that environmentally valuable land is going to be protected.
"I'm involved in three or four things with my church and the Rotary Club. I have a briefcase for each one. The land conservation briefcase is the only one where I have sunscreen and insect repellent. We do field trips that are wonderful."
Baxter said the county has enough boards to appeal to the interests of just about everyone. About 35 now exist, but some are added or eliminated depending on current commission programs.
A few of the committees have decision-making authority. The Board of Adjustment, for instance, can grant variances to county zoning regulations. The Code Enforcement Board, meanwhile, can rule on alleged code violations.
But most of the panels are set up to recommend and advise the commission. They deal with a range of topics.
Some of the more well-known include the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, the Alachua/Bradford Regional Workforce Board, the Historical Commission and the Environmental Protection Advisory Committee.
Lots of others exist that are less visible. Among them: the Foster Grandparent Program Advisory Committee or the Retired Senior Volunteer Program Advisory Committee.
The boards typically have turnover as members move from the county or develop other commitments.
"Most of the groups meet once a month. It would be rare for them to exceed a couple of hours at each meeting," Baxter said. "We want as diverse a representation as we can get so that they can be a community sounding board. We like representation from the small cities. We want the broad spectrum. I want to see new faces."
Commissioners serve on some committees along with residents. Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said they can be a launchpad to a political future - he served on Gainesville's plan board and several other county and city commissioners were on various volunteer boards before moving to elected office.
Pinkoson said he came to realize through serving on the committees how valuable the programs are and the key role the committee members serve in helping the community.
"Programs like the foster grandparents program, which matches some of our more experienced citizens with youth, are really great. It is giving children the mentors but it also gives some of our senior citizens and chance to get involved," Pinkoson said. "The committees are an opportunity for citizen involvement, and it doesn't go unnoticed. The more information we have about anything, the better the decision will be."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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