The town of Jackson’s recent admirable decision to pay a diversity, equity and inclusion task force brings a long-standing issue to the forefront.
For decades our local appointed boards have worked as volunteers, unpaid for their time and expertise. We applaud those who stand up and serve the community in what’s typically a selfless act of community service.
Town and Teton County board volunteers require a multitude of skills, experience and passion. They spend hours preparing and planning for — and many more sitting in — public meetings. Frequently these roles bring public scrutiny and pressure, which is hardly appropriate for unpaid volunteer community members.
What’s missing from our volunteer boards is a representative group of community members. Too often the result of our unpaid positions is boards composed of wealthy, retired people who don’t mirror the whole community.
Reflective government is powerful. It starts at the volunteer board level, and more diversity of age, race, gender and individual net worth should be reflected. Each of us needs to see ourselves represented in every level of government. If we actually want diversity, equity and inclusion we need policy to support that outcome.
But upon each call for board members, working class families who already feel maxxed may pause, wishing they could join a board, but either can’t offer unpaid time, don’t have child care or don’t see a path to getting involved in their local government.
2022 brings a time of unprecedented sales and property tax income levels to local coffers, and now is the time to invest in what should be compensated government boards. An annual stipend or honorarium would go a long way to acknowledge the time and energy these community members devote. It might even offset some child care costs that enable a parent to attend these regular public board meetings. The same formula could apply to the currently unpaid elected seats on the hospital and school boards, which should embody the diversity of patients and students they serve.
Jackson Hole can no longer afford to govern our community on the backs of unpaid labor. It’s time for our community via our elected officials to recognize public board members with compensation. This community deserves a government reflective of its composition, and unpaid boards do not help create that outcome.