Dan Behrens’ experience as a member of Faribault’s Charter Commission has been so satisfying that he applied to sit on a second city board.
Earlier this year, Behrens, an engineer, was chosen for the newly formed Environmental Commission, bringing more than 35 years of professional design and construction experience to the role — complimenting the skill sets and experiences of other members. With just a bit of effort, he said, commission members can really make a material difference in the community.
“It’s really valuable experience, you learn a lot about what happens in government,” he said. “The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.”
With 2021 fast approaching, the city of Faribault is looking for fresh faces and new voices from the community to fill openings on its numerous boards and commissions. The city this week began accepting applications from residents interested in joining one of its boards or commissions. Mayor Kevin Voracek noted that such boards, composed of community volunteers, play a critically important role in the city’s approach to a wide variety of issues.
“From the airport to parks to housing, just about every aspect of the city is on a board or commission to some degree,” he said.
Most board and commission members serve staggered terms, giving newcomers the opportunity to learn from more experienced members. Still, seats on more than a dozen boards are opening, with terms starting in January.
Councilor Royal Ross urged interested residents to apply for a spot on a board or commission, arguing that joining a board or commission can be an enriching learning experience. While many board members are likely to seek another term on their boards, he noted that others are subject to term limits or wish to step down for other reasons.
Every year, there’s some people who are at the end of their term and may not have the time or may not want to be on that same board or commission,” he said. “There’s always a need for people to step up.”
Applications for some boards and commissions are expected to be more competitive than others. For example, Faribault’s Economic Development Authority traditionally draws an abundance of applicants from the city’s business community. On the flip side, the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission has been shorthanded for years. In addition to filling current member Ron Dwyer’s position, the city has hopes of filling an additional three-year term to bring the group back to a full seven members.
Former Mayor Chuck Ackman said that his appointment to the Planning Commission nearly three decades ago was truly life-altering. In the years following, he went on to serve as Planning Commission chair before becoming a councilor and then mayor.
Most city boards usually end up with enough interested applicants, many of whom are returning members seeking another term. Nonetheless, Ackman said it’s important for the city to recruit fresh voices with unique perspectives from the community.
“This is a great opportunity to get involved,” Ackman said. “Our government is not a spectator sport, you should be involved.”
Ackman noted that there are likely to be at least two openings on the city’s Planning Commission, which plays a crucial role in overseeing projects of all sorts throughout town. Two more slots will be available on the city’s newest board, the Environmental Commission, including the seat currently occupied by Ackman himself.
Environmental Commission Chair Roger Steinkamp said that the commission, which advises the council on issues dealing with the environment, is still getting its bearings and strategizing on how best to fulfill its broad yet vaguely defined mission.
While other regional cities of comparable size have had environmental commissions for years, Faribault’s City Council created its own board this year after receiving a petition signed by more than 70 area residents. That’s not to say the board is starting from scratch. In 2016, Faribault applied for and was accepted into Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy program, which has partnered closely with area residents and businesses to improve their energy efficiency.
With support from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Faribault has also taken significant steps to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The city completed a Climate Impact Study several years ago and was recently chosen to put together a Climate Adaptation Plan.
Interest in the topic is significant enough that when applications opened, an abundance of qualified candidates stepped forward to put their hats in the ring. Still, Steinkamp said he’d like to see the board look a little bit more like Faribault.
“We’d like to get representation from young people interested in representing their generation, as well as members of our different communities,” he said.