Columbia City Council is shaking up the membership of some of its boards and commissions, many of which council has allowed to violate term limitations.
Two of the most high-profile organizations – one that oversees conventions and tourism, another that disperses a large slice of the city’s hospitality taxes – are the biggest offenders and may be completely overhauled.
In another case, the Columbia Housing Authority, one member has stayed twice as long as council’s two-term policy allows.
Last week, council appointed or reappointed members of seven commissions. Commissions and boards make important, often volatile decisions dealing with a range of issues, such as zoning, construction projects or spending millions in public dollars.
Appointments often are divvied among City Council members and many times are political in nature.
Council delayed acting last week on membership of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism, the Hospitality Tax Advisory Committee and the city’s Election Commission.
All five of the convention center’s board members have exceeded term limits – some by as much as nearly three years, according to city records.
In addition, two members, chairman Bill Ellen and member John Hardee, serve on two city-appointed bodies. That also contravenes the policy City Council adopted in 2005.
“I don’t think it’s rampant violations, but we have violated the policy,” said Councilwoman Leona Plaugh, who is pushing for either new rules or adherence to the current ones. “We need to be sure we’re all willing to abide by it.”
She said the city generally is not having trouble finding applicants, though some commissions require expertise in specified professions.
Plaugh has not offered a rewritten policy but said council needs to solve the problem. The issue might be addressed at council’s March 19 meeting.
The conventions board oversees operation of the Midlands Convention and Visitors Center and its activities.
The three-year terms of Ellen and Hardee expired in June 2012. The terms of two of the three other members expired in June 2010, while the term of a third member expired in June 2011, the records show.
The 11-member hospitality advisory board examines dozens of applications annually for about $2-plus million of the city’s nearly $8 million to $9 million in revenue paid by patrons who buy prepared meals or beverages inside the city. Competition for hospitality tax money is intense and organizations zealously guard their annual allotments.
All but two of those 11 hospitality advisory board members either have exceeded term limits or will do so by mid-April, according to the records. Three vacancies occurred because committee members resigned, including Moe Baddourah, who last year was elected to City Council.
Committee members are appointed by council to two-year terms. Committee treasurer Susan Douglas has been on the board since April 2005 and the next committee chairman, restaurateur Bobby Williams, has been a member since October 2005.
Council is discussing shuffling the membership of the hospitality committee and reducing its budget. But no vote has occurred yet.
Fourteen people have applied for appointment to the hospitality committee, yet council last week extended the application deadline for a week. The new deadline ends at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Housing authority chairman Bobby Gist will be completing his fourth term in June, the records show. He has been on the board of the body that oversees low-income housing in the city since January 1994.
Efforts to reach Gist were unsuccessful Monday. Gist is the uncle of Circuit Court Judge DeAndrea Benjamin, who is married to Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.