When they learned there were more applicants than openings for the Decorah Planning and Zoning Commission, members of the Decorah City Council Monday tabled action on the mayor’s recommendation for filling the positions.
The Council also expressed concern about deviating from its historic practice of reappointing incumbent members who are interested in serving another term.
“This is a good problem to have. It’s the first time we’ve had more people than spots to fill,” Council member Andy Carlson said.
Monday’s Council agenda included the Council’s consideration of Mayor Lorraine Borowski’s recommendations for filling several openings on city boards and commissions, including the Decorah Planning and Zoning Commission. The Council has to consent to the recommendations for the openings to be filled.
Two members of the Commission have expiring terms; Brian Cook and Joel Zook, who was appointed to fill the remainder of an unexpired term of a Commission member who resigned.
Borowski said it was not an “easy task” to make recommendations to fill the openings and called for Ryan Delaney and Brad Wicks to fill the Planning and Zoning positions even though Cook and Zook said they would be willing to serve another five-year term.
She said Delaney and Wicks have showed “experience in the field” and represent business entities that should have representation on the Commission. While she knew that Cook and Zook would be willing to serve another term and that historically incumbents are reappointed, Borowski said there are times when it’s good to appoint new members to the Commission.
“The reason I recommended the two business people, is I felt it could help balance out the P&Z somewhat,” the mayor explained. “I’m aware there are a lot of feelings about these two recommendations.”
Council member Ross Hadley said Cook is a contractor who has been on the Commission for many years.
Carlson said he was not aware until Monday night’s meeting that the incumbents were willing to serve another term. Existing members don’t typically submit an application to continue serving in their positions, and the Council did receive applications from Wicks and Delaney.
Delaney is a project manager for Bruening Rock Products who has 13 years of experience in the construction field and has worked with the public and private sector. In his application, Delaney said he wants to do his part “to make sure Decorah stays a first-class community.”
Wicks is owner of Wicks Construction, a business he has run for 35 years. He previously served on the Decorah Airport Commission and the St Benedict School Board. He is a past president of the Iowa Concrete Paving Association.
“I feel it is my turn to get involved in our local government,” he said in his application for the Commission.
Borowski issued a press release last month encouraging applications for openings on city boards and commissions, especially from women, in an attempt to achieve gender equity. However, she told the Council Monday the city had not received applications from any women.


Discussion
Borowski said she would make another recommendation on filling the openings on the Planning and Zoning Commission at the Council’s next meeting.
“Do we want to break protocol for incumbents?” Carlson asked.
The mayor responded that it is not a requirement that incumbents be reappointed.
“It’s just been our past practice, City Manager Chad Bird said. “We usually aren’t swimming in applicants.”
Hadley, a past member of the Commission, said serving on Planning and Zoning has a “steep learning curve” and that many members receive “formal training” through Iowa State University Extension to educate themselves on issues facing the Commission.
Council member Dan Bellrichard said there needs to be a balance. He said Zook is completing an unexpired term, but has not completed a full, five-year term.
“It’s much more of a working commission than a lot of other commissions,” Hadley said.
If incumbents are interested in being reappointed, their experience should be taken under consideration, he said. If members are serving too long, he said the city should consider setting term limits.
Hadley noted the Commission is in the middle of a comprehensive land-use plan review that started more than a year and a half ago.
Schissel, who voted against tabling action on the mayor’s recommendation for the Commission, said he liked the idea of appointing Wicks and Delaney.
“We currently have plenty of people with experience. They would bring fresh eyes,” he said.
Carlson suggested keeping one of the Commission incumbents and appointing one new member. Council member Steve Luse suggested exploring term limits and Bird said that would be accomplished through ordinance amendments.

Approved
The Council approved the mayor’s appointments to the Decorah Airport Commission and the Decorah Tree Board.
Brian Petersburg was appointed to the Decorah Airport Commission and Drew Pellet, Mark Faldet, Peter van der Linen and Dick Guilgot were appointed to the Decorah Tree Board. One vacancy remains on the Tree Board, according to Bird.
The Council appointed Kraig Tweed to the Decorah Board of Adjustment.

Appreciative
After voting on the board and commission appointments, Borowski said she valued the Council’s discussion.
“I greatly appreciated the Council conversation for seeking clarity for the tasks at hand. It is not an easy process and it takes total participation exemplified during Monday’s meeting,” she said after the meeting.