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Galt, Lodi short on committee volunteers

Galt City Councilman aims to reverse trend hitting cities nationally

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Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:11 am, Tue Apr 24, 2012.

Too few volunteers are stepping up to serve on Galt’s committees and commissions, and one Galt City Council member is looking into ways to reverse the trend.

The city’s beautification committee has been unable to meet, as there were not enough members to make the quorum required for public meetings.

The fact that the group has been short three of its members is an issue citywide — and one that has Councilman Randy Shelton concerned with volunteer recruitment and retention.

“We’re losing our volunteers,” he said at a recent council meeting, when he agreed to meet with Councilman Mike Singleton to brainstorm ways of retaining volunteers and attracting new ones.

In the last two years, Shelton said there has been a lot of turnover.

City Clerk Liz Aguire, who oversees the council appointments, chalks up the decline in volunteerism to people being busier nowadays.

“It’s hard to take time away from work and family to volunteer. People have been hit hard by the economy and are working longer hours and, in some cases, more than one job,” she said. “It’s harder to find people who have extra time to serve on committees and commissions.”

But Kimberly Nalder, a professor at California State University, Sacramento who studies public policy, said it’s a generational issue.

“This is a problem not just in Galt, but all over the country,” she said. “Most civic duty-type volunteer work is being done by people who are in the Baby Boomer generation or older.”

She agrees that one reason younger people aren’t serving on committees and commissions is certainly that people in their 20s through 40s are busy with careers and family.

“But it’s more than that. As a culture, we have been retreating to our own homes in the evenings, rather than engaging in our communities,” Nalder said. “It’s also the case that older generations express more of a sense of civic duty than younger ones.”

The city of Lodi has also had trouble filling commission slots.

Recently, the city reduced the number of people on the Lodi Improvement Committee from seven to five, because it was having to postpone or cancel meetings because of a lack of a quorum, City Clerk Randi Johl said.

The city has had to post three separate times for three open spots on the Animal Commission.

“Some of it just might have to do with the economy and time commitments. People are focused on going to work, getting the bills paid and getting their kids to school, so they are just not civicly engaged,” Johl said.

But the lack of volunteers is not the case for all of the city’s committees.

The city never has trouble filling the adult or youth positions on the Greater Lodi Area Youth Commission, Johl said. The city also quickly fills positions on the Recreation Commission and the Planning Commission.

In Galt, each city council member is responsible for appointing members for committee and commission seats, or they make the decision together. Potential commission members can submit letters of interest when a vacancy occurs. They are typically advertised in the local newspapers.

In the last month, the city has filled the vacant positions on the youth commission and reappointed members to others, including the Measure R Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee.

Shelton recently met with Aguire and City Manager Jason Behrmann, and he plans to bring a recommendation regarding the issue back to the city council.

Not only does the city need to retain its current volunteers and recruit new ones, but it also needs to publicly recognize them more often, Shelton said.

“I’m optimistic,” he said about the effort. “I started volunteering as a kid. I’m getting tired. We need to look at some of the young people.”

In the end, Nalder said the lull in volunteerism may pose a major problem within the next 20 years if Generations X and Y — typically those in their teens through their 30s — don’t start to step up.

“Nobody will be left to keep our democracy participatory,” she said. “This is a big, systemic problem.”

News-Sentinel staff writer Maggie Creamer contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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