Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Boards and Commissions: A bustle of inactivity

Residents who want to serve on city boards and commissions may find it difficult to find an open seat on one that remains active.

A 32-page list released Monday (Aug. 22, 2005) by the City Clerk’s office turned up 141 current or upcoming vacancies, but many were on boards and commissions that are no longer active.

The list was supposed to be made available 30 days after the April passage of the Civic Responsibility Act of 2005, meant to encourage citizen participation in government. Within one year, under terms of the act, all vacancies are to be posted on, the city’s web site.

City activist Rasheed Abdul-Haqq said Tuesday (Aug. 23, 2005) he feels the list of vacancies should be posted as soon as possible.

“It’s just a matter of putting it online and advertising it,” he said. “They should shorten that,” he said of the year’s timeline.

Abdul-Haqq said residents may favor the most important boards, such as Planning and Zoning. “Other committees are just vacant because nobody’s interested in the little ones,” he said.

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams said Wednesday (Aug. 24, 2005) his staff has been working for about six weeks to fill boards such as the Plainfield Television Advisory Committee, which oversees the city’s local Channel 74, and the Citizens Advisory Committee, which reviews and ranks applications for federal housing and social services funding.

Some other boards and commissions are more problematic. The Beautification Committee can have up to 40 members but presently has none.

“There’s just not that much interest in it,“ McWilliams said.

The Human Relations Commission is inactive and McWilliams said without a community issue at hand, “There’s not that much for them to do.“

Sometimes volunteer boards just lose their energy.

“It comes down to the individuals involved,“ McWilliams said. ” Where they are active, we do try to provide administrative support.”

The busiest boards and commissions - Planning, Zoning, Historic Preservation and Cultural & Heritage - tend to retain members for repeat terms, which narrows the chances for new applicants.

The Civic Responsibility Act calls for posting of vacancies with a description of the duties involved in each position, any special credentials required, the term of office, name of the person currently in office and when their term expires, number of vacancies on a given board and the number of meetings the board holds.

Anyone interested in serving on a city board or commission may submit an application to City Clerk Laddie Wyatt. The application must include the person’s name, address, phone number, e-mail address, position sought, qualifications and signature. The clerk’s office is in City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: Boards, commissions