Diversity is an issue for Stanly, Albemarle boards and commissions

Published 6:03 pm Monday, June 24, 2019

Stanly County has a diversity problem when it comes to its citizen-appointed boards and committees.

Stanly has 16 boards and committees, yet only two of them have more than 15 percent minorities. Of Stanly’s estimated 62,075 people, according to the U.S. Census, 20 percent are minorities.

Of the county’s population, women make up 50.1 percent, yet there is only one board where female representation is at or above 50 percent; however, there are five boards and committees where women are above 40 percent.

The Stanly committees and boards have 91 white men, compared to just 54 white women and 10 minorities.

“Ideally local governments would have boards and commissions that are reflective of their community’s demographics,” said Lydian Altman, senior manager of leadership curriculum development at the UNC School of Government.

“Realistically and despite any local efforts to reach out and encourage applications for these positions, this is often an aspirational goal that is difficult to achieve,” Altman added.

This lack of diversity is underscored by recent comments from County Commissioner Bill Lawhon, who has chastised his fellow commissioners for appointing former commissioners to boards when they already serve on other appointed boards.

“Any county will be better served with more citizens working on voluntary boards,” Lawhon said. “The more people you have, the more ideas you have.”

He said the boards and committees in Stanly need more representation from different groups.

“We need representation from the African-American community, from the Hispanic community, from the Caucasian community,” he said.

While County Commissioner Tommy Jordan agreed the boards could use more people, he said the county doesn’t need “diversity for the sake of diversity.”

“ ‘Diversity’ is a term quite often misused for political gamesmanship,” he said.

It’s used “as a hot button to get certain ideologues fired up for one cause or another — race, gender, etc.,” he added. “I think as long as there are willing candidates with experience and qualifications that are offering to donate their time to these boards, we should take advantage of as much diversity as possible.”

Jordan said many of the boards remained understaffed due to a lack of volunteers.

Albemarle’s boards and committees are also not diverse.

Of Albemarle’s estimated 16,106 people, almost 32 percent are minorities, yet only two of the five city boards and committees have any minority representation. The highest is 11 percent.

Women make up 54 percent of the city’s population, yet only three of the five boards have any female representation — though the Tree Commission has five members and all are women.

In total, 25 white men are on the Albemarle boards and committees compared to just 10 white women and only two minorities.

“I can tell you the City regularly seeks volunteers for the boards and commissions,” City Manager Michael Ferris said. “We regularly post on our website the application form.

“Also, we frequently send an application to every single utility customer with all the boards and commissions listed and the application form,” he added. “This allows the public to submit the form back to us and we keep a list that is presented to Council when vacancies occur.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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