Friday, November 25, 2011

Serve Your City

Six years ago, the City Council approved the Civic Responsibility Act of 2005. The idea was to increase citizen participation in government and the legislation was shepherded into effect by the Citizens Campaign.

Just this year, a full list of boards and commissions was posted on the city’s web site, with rosters of membership. However, upcoming vacancies are not listed separately, meaning an interested citizen would have to scan through the rosters to see which terms are about to expire.

This is what the ordinance requires:
The City Clerk shall cause a register of appointed positions to City boards, commission or agencies to be prepared and maintained. Such register shall be made available on the City's website within a year after the enactment of this Article and at the City Hall within (30) days of enactment of this Article and shall set forth at least the following: (a) Title of each appointed municipal position (b) Brief description of the positions' powers and duties (c) Any special credentials or qualifications required to hold the position (d) The length of term for the position (e) The name of the person currently holding the position, the expiration date of his or her term, and the number of vacant seats on the board or commission (f) The dates/times and frequency of any meetings which the holder of the position must attend 

At the Nov. 21 City Council meeting, Sandra Chambers was approved to serve as Alternate No. 2 on the Planning Board. In an interview preceding the vote, Chambers said she had been trying for a couple of years to get appointed to a board or commission. Although the resolution did not say who she is succeeding, the roster says Sidney Jackson last held the seat. Jackson has since been appointed to a four-year term.

The appointment process was not without its quirks. First of all, the term was listed on the resolution as ending on 12/31/2013, but Jackson’s alternate term was stated on the roster as 1/1/09 to 1/1/11. This business of 12/31 versus 1/1 is misleading. Terms end on Dec. 31 of the final year, so this one ended at the end of 2010. Therefore, Chambers should have received an unexpired term to 12/31/2012.

In addition, for some reason Councilman William Reid said to Chambers, “We hope you can assist the city in solving juvenile problems we have in the city.”

Chambers responded by talking about a PAL program she would like to see revived, and Councilwoman Vera Greaves said, “I’m happy to know she is interested in working with the youth. I think she will be an asset to the Planning Board.”

Lovely, except being involved in youth activities is not among the duties of a Planning Board member.

There are two other Planning Board terms about to expire on Dec. 31 (or 1/1/2012, as the roster has it). Members sitting in those seats should notify the mayor and clerk if they want to be reappointed. Others interested in the seats should fill out the downloadable application form on the city web site and submit it to the mayor and clerk (keep a copy).

According to other lists, there are three terms about to expire on the Historic Preservation Commission and one full and one alternate term expiring on the Board of Adjustment.

Some boards and commissions on the list have many vacancies, because they are defunct but have never been dissolved. The Environmental Commission may sound interesting, but no members have ever been appointed since its establishment in 2001.

So these are some of the pitfalls of getting involved: Making sure you are applying for a seat that really exists, competing with sitting members who want to re-up and getting through a council interview that may take some strange twists. Some applicants have reported that their information got lost and they had to resubmit several times.

But persevere and if you are selected, you will be rewarded with both an interesting experience and the knowledge that you are contributing to the progress of government.



  1. AJ has posted all the Boards etc and members on the city site. How could you expect a Councilor who votes "present" on a roll call resolution vote to know what are the duties of the various boards and commissions? But then again I amnot sure if most of the Council kn ow or if the Administration knows or wants them to be active.

  2. I think AJ has done a good job in getting everything posted on ClerkBase, per the 2005 Civic Responsibility Act. I would say, though, that it behooves the administration to publicize more widely the vacancies that exist--a simple press release at the end of this year would suffice, along with a prominent posting on the city's website home page--perhaps when the new site is launched, this could be done.

    As I noted about appointments at last Monday's meeting, the administration in a city of more than 50,000 residents should be able to cast a wider net to find residents to serve than to simply recycle (pardon the pun) former city councilmen, former business partners, and possible favored friends. I have nothing against the individuals nominated--I don't even know them (aside from having been introduced to Mr. Dunn and his wife at events on a few occasions). I simply feel that we owe it to the people of Plainfield to bring in fresh, new looks at the challenges facing the PMUA. It is not personal (except to the degree that residents express sincere concern about the cost of their utility and tax bills). I have no dog in this hunt.


    We can't really do that if we

  3. Bernice --

    I see that the Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs is still listed. I had heard that all its members submitted their resignations a few months back. Rebecca Williams is indicated as Council liaison. Not a word of protest from the community. Not a word from the Council. Have we all become so jaded?

    Randy Schaeffer

  4. @Randy; My understanding is that council liaisons are to attend meetings of whatever entity they are assigned to and then report back to the council at large. From what I hear, Rebecca has asked for a schedule of meetings for PACHA and has had no response. It is not a council liaison's role to solve a group's problems or try to keep it afloat, if I may say so.

  5. Just to add a note--I tried for several months to get a handle on PACHA--reaching out to current/former members/city administration, etc., to find out what was happening with this group and how I, as liaison, could assist. I was a big supporter of the formation of PACHA back when the previous administration set it up, and when I came on the council in January 2011, I specifically asked Council President McWilliams to appoint me as its liaison. Back then, I asked for the 2011 published meeting schedule, as well as the meeting minutes from the previous meetings. After a lot of back and forth, 3 meetings worth of minutes were sent to me by one of the members who said he had resigned. As far as I know, there was no published meeting schedule for this year, per OPMA. I met with the new head--we had a very good meeting--only to find out from her that more of the members had resigned. I suggested that she talk to the administration about publicizing the vacancies and set up some meetings, and said I would be happy to help in any way I can. I do not know what the administration's response was. It behooves the administration (who is surely aware of what is happening) to do something--as I told the PACHA Chair, I cannot call meetings or do anything that could be construed as running the organization. My role is similar to the role I play on the Shade Tree Commission, for which I also serve as liaison--I attend meetings (as my schedule permits), offer feedback, and follow up when requested. I have made myself available all year to PACHA, but I have not been given a schedule of meetings and I don't even know what the leadership structure is at this point. I have talked with Randy and other members of the community about this in the past--it is disheartening. Again, as I said, press releases, publicity on the city's website, and other outreach could help us get a larger group of residents to fill all the city's boards and commissions.