Some members of the Leesburg Town Council may have been hoping to wind down the network of advisory commissions as they gathered Monday night for a roundtable meeting with the leaders of the citizen panels.
Leesburg has 13 of them.
Sometimes it is a challenge to find volunteers to fill all the seats—nearly 100 of them. Sometimes the advisory committees lose focus and run adrift. Sometimes their recommendations rub council members the wrong way. Sometimes it seems like the whole concept just takes more energy than it’s worth for everyone involved. We’re familiar with the complaints; county supervisors have voiced them, too.
But when you take a closer look, as town leaders did this week and county leaders did last year, the potential for significant positive benefits from this network of volunteers becomes clear.
Over the years, that value has been particularly visible in Leesburg.
There likely would not be the Ida Lee Park Recreation Center we know today without the hard work and vision of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission in the late 1980s. The extraordinary opportunities afforded by Leesburg Executive Airport certainly would not exist without the work of the Airport Commission. The enthusiastic work of the Tree Commission and the Environmental Advisory Commission also have made lasting impacts on the town. In recent years, it has been the Public Art Commission that has pushed town leaders to think more creatively.
The challenge is to ensure the town is using this volunteer energy and expertise effectively. The council’s decision to stop assigning members to attend commission meetings only further marginalized struggling panels and weakened the strong ones. It sent the wrong message.
A lot can be achieved with better communication and coordination. That doesn’t have to mean more meetings—for commissioners or council members. [In truth, the Town Council’s four-meetings-a-month schedule is probably more than needed.] Putting in a little extra work to ensure that the advisory panels have clear missions and know that their work is valued will pay large dividends to the town. Without that effort, it is not just a lot of people’s time that is being wasted.