City looks to improve diversity on boards

Based on population figures, Grand Rapids’ mix is about 20 percent low.

August 21, 2015
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Diversity on city of Grand Rapids boards and commissions is 20 percent below where it needs to be to reflect the local population, according to Ruth Kelly, Second Ward city commissioner.

During Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Kelly provided an overview to fellow commissioners of the work being undertaken by a working committee she leads to improve diversity on city boards and commissions through creating a streamlined process for recruiting and appointing members to vacant seats.

Two hundred and sixty citizens serve on 40 Grand Rapids boards and commissions. Kelly said it was the mission of the group to ensure that representation on those boards and commissions reflect the local population’s diversity of perspective and experience.

The review committee is focused on three areas it believes can improve that diversity in the coming years: communication, recruitment and process.

Website improvements are currently underway to improve communication about board and commission opportunities available to citizens, according to Steve Guitar, communications director for the city of Grand Rapids.

Guitar said it’s important to “inform residents of volunteer opportunities.”

The Clerk’s Office is in charge of the website updates, which include adding more descriptive information about the boards and commissions as well as who is currently serving on each of them, from which ward and when each member’s term expires.

The city also is conducting a marketing campaign to recruit new members using social media channels, local media and a video public service announcement to get the word out that volunteers are needed.

A special effort will be made to reach out to millennials through an app being developed this fall by a group of Grand Valley State University students. The app will include a link to the boards and commissions page so college students and young professionals can find out more easily about opportunities.

Grand Rapids City Clerk Darlene O’Neal said responsibility for recruitment belongs to everyone, including city commissioners, whom she encouraged to amp up efforts to find prospective volunteers for open seats.

“We cannot make the mistake in thinking it belongs to one body; it has to take place at various levels,” she said. “If we can’t identify individuals in our community, the process can’t move forward.”

Staff liaisons also are expected to increase their outreach to potential board and commission members. To help, there will be quarterly liaison meetings.

A palm card with a QR code is being created so commissioners, liaisons and others can provide prospective board members with more information on the spot. The interested individual can scan the code for more information on the city’s boards and commissions.

O’Neal acknowledged a barrier for some people is not having served on a board or commission previously. She said the city will continue to work with United Way’s Project Blueprint, which provides training for people interested in serving on boards or committees.

Additionally, the city will offer a development program for anyone interested in learning more about what serving on a particular board or commission entails. The goal is to create a shadowing opportunity for prospective members.

Another opportunity under consideration, which specifically targets millennials, is to create a program that will allow them to sit on a board for one year, without voting rights, to learn firsthand how to participate on a board.

O’Neal said the Clerk’s Office would seek to “leverage technology whenever possible to enhance the appointment process.” She also stressed the continual improvement measures taken over the past year to enhance internal communication with departments and liaisons.

To apply for a Grand Rapids board or commission, apply online at

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