Sunday, January 03, 2010

What's the Big Deal with Appointments?

Plainfield has numerous boards and commissions, some of which are still on the books but have been defunct for many years (Reminder to 2010 City Council: Clean them out).

Among those that are viable, the most important ones may be the land use boards that grant permission for development, redevelopment and other changes involving real property.

Basically, the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment are the most important, but the Historic Preservation Commission's review and advisory powers can also affect what the two voting boards ultimately decide.

Each board has rules for membership and terms of office. For example, the Planning Board has five membership categories, ranging from a mayoral designee to city official, City Council member and residents. The Zoning Board of Adjustment may have seven residents and two alternates, appointed by the mayor with advice and consent of the City Council.

The problems arise when members are incorrectly assigned to specific terms.

Membership is not about individuals, but seats. Individuals nominated by the mayor and approved by the council must reflect proper successions in those seats.

At present, there is a disconnect on quite a few of these terms and successions.

This is not a new problem. This writer remembers spending many hours a couple of decades ago trying to rectify successions following one mayor's penchant for flipping board members into various seats, from full-term to unexpired terms to the point of total confusion.

The importance of having land use people in the proper roles is that their decisions affect legal outcomes for developers and other applicants. At meetings, only those who heard applications can vote on them. But what if they were in the wrong seats?

So far, nobody has caught on to this flaw and pursued it. But technically, they could. And even if that was not the reason to do things right, why not just do things right on general principles?

Other boards and commissions have similar flaws.

In 2009, Council President Rashid Burney called for implementation of the Civic Responsibility Act of 2005. This act would provide a template for those willing to serve on boards and commissions by setting forth the duties and obligations involved, as well as the vacancies that provide opportunities to serve. Obviously, if the roster was all mixed up, candidates would not know exactly what they were getting into in terms of time commitment. Would they be on the hook for two years, three years or five years?

It is patently unfair to those willing to serve on boards and commissions to have faulty rosters.

Personally, as secretary to the Shade Tree Commission, I have found this to be a very big problem. We are supposed to have only five commissioners and two alternates, and yet because the initial staggered terms were incorrect, everything since 2007-08 has required intensive documentation to get things straightened out. As of Jan. 1, 2010, more errors were made, compounding the issue.

This is not nit-picking, it is merely asking for things to be done right.

There are several other boards and commissions that have holdovers, vacancies and discrepancies that ultimately need to be rectified if they are to function in the city's best interest. Somebody or somebodies on both sides of the City Hall rotunda need to set the record straight and stay on the case through 2010-14, or willing residents will only be supplanted by political appointees who don't care how out of whack the system is, because their only charge will be to acquiesce to the powers that be and vote accordingly.

--Bernice Paglia


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