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City struggles to fill panel

A Red Wing city panel is hoping the community can muster an additional gift this holiday season - three new commissioners.

Beginning Jan. 1, the Human Rights Commission loses three of its seven members. And despite what staff liaison Tim Sletten called an active effort to recruit new commissioners, the well has been running dry.

"We really need three good members who are interested in human rights," said Chairwoman Kirsten Fridell.

She will watch Lois Burnes, Don Mayo and Marilyn Olson leave their posts, each having served out two terms on the board.

Fridell said the board can continue to operate with four members, but it won't be easy.

"That's asking an awful lot of the members," she said.

The panel focuses on providing equal opportunity in the "human experience" across lines of race, religion, gender, nationality and sexual orientation, according to the commission's Web site. The commission also is the primary organizer of the city's annual Diversity Festival.

Scheduling was recently scaled back from once a month to once every two months. Fridell estimated members devote about two hours a month to the commission.

"It isn't as much as a commitment as it once was," she said.

Commissioners are culled from numerous channels, but must be appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council.

Mayor John Howe said he usually seeks out candidates through liaisons to the panel or through current members. The city also solicits involvement in its monthly newsletter.

But Howe said sometimes it's just a tough go.

"It's not always easy finding the right person for the right board," he said. "We just have to get the message out that it's important for people to participate in local government."

He said difficulty filling board and commission vacancies isn't limited to the human rights panel. Numerous city bodies will see turnover at the end of the year.

"We live in today's society ... people are pulled in many different ways," Howe said.

Still, Howe said he hopes to seat human rights commissioners in a manner keeping with the panel's focus on diversity.

"I'm hoping to reach out to underserved people who may be willing to step forward," he said.

That several people stepped forward to enlist in his so-called Blue Ribbon Panel provides "evidence that we do have an active community," Howe said.

Fridell suspected that part of the problem may be that people just don't know how to apply. She said calling the chairperson or the mayor is an easy way, though the Web provides another portal.

"I think people don't really know how to do that," she said. "It isn't something that is talked about much."

Applications can be downloaded at

Howe said other city bodies seeking members includes:

• Airport Board

• Sister Cities Commission

• Advisory Planning Commission

• Port Authority Board

• Charter Commission

• Harbor Commission

• Housing and Redevelopment Authority