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Extension program aims to help people fi ll committee positions

Serving on the James River Valley Library System Board has been a "learn-asyou-go" experience for first-year member Jay Nitschke. The former Jamestown High School drama director said she applied for the open position on the board after she retire...

Serving on the James River Valley Library System Board has been a “learn-asyou-go” experience for first-year member Jay Nitschke.

The former Jamestown High School drama director said she applied for the open position on the board after she retired because she thought it would be a good fit.

“It’s a twofold thing,” Nitschke said. “My passion for the library led me there, and I also think you need to give back to your community and get actively involved.”

About one in 10 people will serve on a public or private board or committee in the Jamestown area, said Alicia Harstad, extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for the North Dakota State University Extension Service - Stutsman County. Lead Local, a program put on by the NDSU Extension Service, gives current and potential board members tools to better serve in those positions, she said.

Lead Local is a statewide program from the NDSU Extension Service that provides training for aspiring, elected or appointed local board or committee members, according to the service’s website.

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The program will be held for the first time in Jamestown on Thursday, April 20, at the Stutsman County Extension Office.

Lead Local started about two years ago, stemming from community forums the extension service held among the different demographics it serves, Harstad said.

“One of the things that stood out from the feedback was that the state has all these boards and committees, but not enough people are stepping up to fill open positions,” Harstad said. “People aren’t feeling confident in their ability to take those roles.”

Lead Local helps participants feel better prepared to serve as an effective member, recognize components of an effective meeting, learn basic parliamentary procedure, understand how different personality styles can work together and use effective tools when dealing with conflict, according to the NDSU Extension Service website.

Mark Klose, Stutsman County Commission chairman, is serving his ninth four-year term on the commission. Klose said when he first joined the commission in 1984 he took a couple of workshops from the North Dakota Association of Counties, but didn’t have any education in politics.

“I was encouraged to run and had an interest in it,” Klose said.

Klose said he, other commissioners and board directors are available to explain the function, process and expectations of different county boards to those interested. The meetings are open to the public, and Klose recommends that anyone interested should attend a meeting of the board he or she would like to be involved with.

“The No. 1 thing is the desire and interest in the board you might be interested in joining,” Klose said.

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Casey Bradley, county auditor/chief operating officer, said it’s difficult to fill open positions on most county boards. The county advertises open positions in the newspaper and online, but doesn’t receive many applications, Bradley said. Most of the time, the county tries to get the incumbent member to keep the position, he said.

“Getting people to get involved is a challenge,” Bradley said. “It’s a time commitment and most positions are unpaid, which makes it a little harder.”

Jeff Fuchs, city administrator, said it can be tough to fill open positions on city committees as well. The city advertises open positions and solicits people to apply, but it can take months to fill a certain position, he said.

“It just depends on what the committee is and how many people have an interest,” Fuchs said.

The county’s website has descriptions of the boards and the responsibilities of positions to try to educate people before they apply, Bradley said. The county tries to reach out to different demographics by advertising openings on social media and contacting people directly if it thinks they’d be interested, he said.

“The boards are very specific and very focused,” Bradley said. “Someone is more apt to volunteer if they have an interest.”

Each board is different, but no matter what there’s going to be a learning curve for new members, Bradley said. State statutes and other regulations dictate how each board operates, so people have to learn how to work and make decisions within those, he said.

Bradley and Fuchs said the county and city boards don’t see a lot of turnover, but some boards with term limits lead to changes. However, members who have been on a board for a long time have valuable experience and knowledge, Bradley said.

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“A lot of people have a particular interest and enjoy serving on a board they have a passion for, and will continue after their term expires,” Fuchs said.

kfairbanks@jamestownsun.com |

(701) 952-8453

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