Illinois Parks & Recreation
November / December 1995 • Volume 26, Number 6
Citizens Advisory Committees
Do You Want Them (To Work)?
by Robin R. Hall, CLP
In May of 1971, the Urbana Park District's Citizens Advisory Committee was officially formed by the board of commissioners. In June of that year, UPDAC held its first meeting. During the following months, subcommittees began to study many aspects of the district--parks, land needs, programs, facilities, and finance. After thorough study, UPDAC recommended the acquisition of an old school building to be used by the park district as a recreation center. They also endorsed and supported a general fund tax rate increase that was held in March of 1972. It passed. After further study and support, the district passed a recreation tax increase referendum in November of 1972. The Urbana Park District was on its way to one of the most active periods of growth in its history.
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ittees, and committee chairs, formulates its programs, determines its meeting times, and plans its agenda.
Recruitment of New Members
What Is UPDAC's Purpose?
- To promote citizen awareness of the desirability of good, adequately financed parks and recreation.
-To encourage community understanding of park district problems and needs.
- To interpret to the board the public's needs and interests concerning parks and recreation.
- To interpret to the public the goals and needs of the park district.
-To identify, study, and evaluate citizen and district needs, concerns, and problems. After such study and evaluation, present suitable recommendations to the commissioners for their consideration.
-To accept policy study assignments from the board.
It is also stated in the bylaws that UPDAC "shall take no action recommending or supporting candidates for membership on the board, or regarding the employment, dismissal, promotion or transfer of an individual park district employee, or encroaching upon the professional prerogatives of the staff."
UPDAC's activities are extremely varied as demonstrated by the following examples. In the early and mid-1970s, the Urbana Park District more than doubled the number of its parks and tripled its acreage. These acquisitions were all studied and recommended by the citizens committee.
UPDAC evaluates programs. A subcommittee recommended the permanent cancellation of the old supervised playground program. They felt the district could no longer justify the expense given the reduction in participation. After detailed study, they recommended the expansion of environmental programs and the development of a joint special recreation program.
UPDAC makes recommendations concerning major facilities. It recommended the construction of a new nature center (1978), the construction of a new outdoor swimming pool (1980), the renovation and rehabilitation of Crystal Lake (1984), the construction of the Lake House (1986), the renovation and expansion of the nature center, and many other smaller projects.
In 1993, twenty-one years after the district's last tax rate increase referendum. UPDAC again studied the financial condition of the Urbana Park District. They recommended the need for a tax rate increase for operating funds. With the active support of UPDAC and the board, a 10 cents tax rate general fund increase was approved in November of 1993 with a 62% yes- vote.
Reasons for UPDAC's Long Tenure
The board gives UPDAC important and responsible assignments and the board listens to their recommendations. The board does not use UPDAC as a rubber stamp or a buffer. There is also the opportunity for continual interaction between UPDAC members, commissioners, and staff. One or two commissioners are appointed as liaisons to UPDAC. They are in attendance at almost every UPDAC meeting. A staff person is assigned to every UPDAC committee as a resource person. There is also a staff person in attendance at UPDAC meetings.
In addition to developing their own program of work and having a varied agenda from year to year, UPDAC has been given increased responsibility. A few years ago it was felt UPDAC might be getting stale. The board gave UPDAC the responsibility of reviewing, developing, and recommending the district's annual capital improvement program. In case the point was missed the first time, the board listens to UPDAC recommendations.
Pros and Cons
The pros are many. UPDAC conducts valuable studies at little or no cost. These are studies that could not be done in as timely or as cost-effective a manner if left for the staff or consultants to do. UPDAC provides additional resource people in the community to answer questions about the district. It provides a pool of informed citizens, nearly all of whom become ardent supporters of the parks and recreation programs. These people spread their enthusiasm into their neighborhoods.
Former UPDAC members are invited to a "homecoming" luncheon every 18-24 months. At the luncheon, attendees are given a review and preview of district activities. UPDAC also provides a pool of potential board candidates. Currently, three of Urbana's five commissioners are former advisory committee members.
Commitment to Success
Robin R. Hall, CLP, is the executive director of the Urbana Park District.
26 • Illinois Parks & Recreation • November/December 1995
Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator