Boards and Commissions: How the Process Works

I’ve written about why you should apply to serve on a city board or commission before, but I’ve never described the process (or, at least, the process as I experienced it).  There’s an excellent overview of the process with two members of the Citizen Advisory Council on the Mayor’s Forum on Channel 3

Here’s how it worked for me:

1. Send in your application. 
I took a look at the open board positions.  Then I submitted my cover letter and resume to the City’s HR Department via email.  (I didn’t complete this application, but I included all the necessary information from it in my cover letter.  I indicated my top two board choices from the list of open board positions on the cover letter as well.)  If you have questions about what kind of time commitments a board requires, call or email the City’s HR Department.

(Regarding picking a board to apply for…here’s a hint: everyone applies for Worcester Arts Council.  Unless you’re the most artsy person in the city, you’re likely not going to get onto it.  If you’re concerned more about service and less about prominence, go for a board that’s not quite as high-profile.  That said, there are boards — Election, Conservation, Historical, among others– that are both high-profile and which have openings, and which you might actually have a chance of getting on.)

2. Receive confirmation from HR.
I got a response back from the City’s HR Department letting me know when the next public meeting was.  In this case, I was warned that my top choice (Trust Funds) didn’t have enough applicants so I was up for my second choice (Hope Cemetery).

3.  Go to the CAC Meeting.
I was lucky when I attended my meeting, because Fran Manocchio was out in the hall welcoming applicants and explaining how the process would work.   I’d attended a meeting of the CAC a looong time ago (about seven or eight years ago, to support a friend) and they were the coldest crew I’d ever met.  The difference between then and now is night and day: the current CAC is much warmer and engaged.

I entered the room (Levi Lincoln Chamber, or The Room To The Right Of The Stairs) and took a seat.  We were informed that there were not enough members of the CAC in attendance for a quorum, so we would all be voted on at another public meeting the following week.  This is not typical of CAC meetings; normally, there’s a quorum, and they vote on whether or not to refer you to the City Manager’s office.  In my case, we were voted on the following week and got a note in the mail about how the votes went.

The CAC members have read your cover letter and resume, and they’re mostly interested in hearing about you and why you’re applying for your board(s).  Depending on what you’re applying for, they may want to hear about any special expertise you may have.  They ask each person to stand and speak for a bit about these things, and you may be asked a question or two.  You don’t have to say a lot, and I think they do a good job of making people feel comfortable.

(Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d had to hear them vote on me.  Who knows?)

I’ve said this before, but one of the best parts of attending these meetings is that you get to see all sorts of people who want to make the city a better place and are doing some pretty wonderful things already. 

4.  Referral to City Manager’s Office.
If all goes well, the CAC votes you up and you get referred to the City Manager’s Office.  Be prepared to…wait.

In my case, I think it was about a month or two before they asked me to come in for an interview.  The interview took place at City Hall, and involved someone from HR, someone from the Manager’s Office, and someone from Parks. 

I have had some funny interviews, but this one took the cake.  A sample:

Lady from HR:  There may be times when you might have to approve liquor licenses.  Do you have any problem with that?

Nicole:  [gives a look of utter befuddlement]

Guy from Parks: No, no, she’s applying for Hope Cemetery, not Parks and Rec[To Nicole]  Honey, there’s probably going to be drinking, but you don’t have to approve of it.

The whole interview involved a lot of similar laughs.  Is there any way to not sound morbid when you say you want to be on the cemetery commission?  If there is, I haven’t found one!  [Also, I have no idea whether that liquor license thing was accurate, and Parks & Rec may do nothing of the sort.  All I know is that I don't have to approve of it!]

5. Approval by the City Manager
After the interview, the City Manager reviews your file and decides whether or not to select you for appointment.

If you are selected for appointment, you will usually find out about one day before City Council meeting where your appointment will be discussed.  (I do not make this up; everyone I know who’s been appointed says they get a call on either Friday afternoon or Monday afternoon telling them that they’re up for appointment that Tuesday.  While you don’t need to show up to the Council meeting, it’s actually kind of cool.  So I recommend that if you’ve made it as far as the second interview — the one with the City Manager staff person — start checking the current City Council agenda every Friday evening so that you know what your Tuesday evening plans will be.)

Also, expect this process to take a while.  (Or perhaps it just took a long time for me.  I’m sure MOB is still regretting that decision.)

6. Attend the City Council Meeting
You should totally go to the City Council meeting when you get appointed.  If you come before the meeting, you not only get to shake the City Manager’s hand, but you also get this huge packet of information about boards, commissions, and the open meeting law. 

If you’re applying for a regulatory or advisory board, you will need to be voted on by the City Council.  (The executive boards are just an FYI for the Council.)  In one of the more depressing moments of my short life, MikeGermain was not in the room when I got voted on; perhaps he was just doing a passive recusal because he knew we’d have a mutual fondness for one another.

So, you get voted on, you stand and wave, and then…

7. Get sworn in
You’re not really a fully fledged member of your board until you get sworn in.  This is probably the least stressful part of a pretty mellow process.  You go to the City Clerk’s Office, tell them you’re there to get sworn in, raise your right hand, etc.  Then call your mother to tell her you’re official and have her ask why the whole family couldn’t be there for the swearing-in.  Explain that it was a pretty low-key affair; you wore jeans, Lady Gaga was playing in the background, you leafed through a booklet about the 1976 bicentennial celebration while waiting to be sworn in.

In Conclusion
You (yes, you!) should apply for a board or commission.  The next meeting of the CAC is on December 15.  (You should also note that there are going to be two open seats on the Library Board, and that that is a completely different process.)

Feel free to comment if you had an experience in applying for boards that you’d like to share.

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8 thoughts on “Boards and Commissions: How the Process Works

  1. Tracy says:

    One of the biggest wrangles on the Parks Commission is drinking in city parks: yea or nay? So that’s the license for the restaurant at Green Hill, and it usually comes for the Latino Festival (on the Common). There’s your answer.
    And there’s enough of a variety of boards that if you look, you’re bound to find something you’re interested in!

  2. Will. W. W. says:

    How Nicole Apostola got on Hope (HCC) escapes logic. You have nothing to offer – no experience or special skills. Knows no politicians. Just a body with a pulse perhaps. Or maybe not. Mommy is a lawyer. Daddy a priest. Someone at CH thought that’ll look good. Or no one else applied.

    Tell us what you have to offer. Why they took you on?

    For someone who espouses civic engagement, I’d say Nicole is totally disengaged. Recall in the Koffe w/Konnie segment, Nicole DIDN’T know that Lukes proposed the sale/transfer of Hope Cemetery. See CC agenda, Oct. 26, item 10d.

    I knew that.

    My point. Being engaged in a city commission does nothing to better the city, enhance civic engagement, or make for a better informed voter. They’re just titles political sycophants and wannabes scrabble after to create an illusion of civic engagement.

    Actually it’s just mutual ass kissing.

    • Nicole says:

      Will — That segment was taped the morning of October 21. The city council agenda for the 26th didn’t get published until at least 30 hours after I spoke with her. I’m not sure if you feel that psychic abilities are requisite for serving on a city board. If that’s the case, I’m lacking.

  3. Will. W. W. says:

    Let’s see, you’re on the HCC. Um… does that that mean just sit and stare at each other? Then my point is made about citizen participation. It’s a waste of time.

    Further, Lukes gave you, a member of the HCC, a valid question and you were completely and utterly unprepared to answer it.

    Tell us, what does the HCC discuss at its meetings? Justify your presence on the HCC. And what it means to the citizenry. Please, enlighten us.

    Good one on the psychic abilities. Yeah, it oughta be a prereg. You woulda seen the Lukes question coming. Right? You’re on the HCC, you shoulda done your homework.

    True, you’re lacking in more than psychic abilities Nicky. My zinger back.

    Can you see what I’m thinking now?

    • Joe says:

      Maybe Will can apply for the Citizen’s advisory Council. Then he can ensure that only applicants who meet his high standards serve the city.

      He’d probably rather sit in his dark cave taking potshots at people who are actually involved, though.

  4. Will. W. W. says:

    Back again!
    Missed me huh?
    You didn’t answer my questions:

    1. Justify your presence on the HCC. What it means to you and what you contribute.

    2. What the committees contribute.

    3. And what it means to the citizenry.

    You can post about stupid stuff, but when put to the test, you clam up.
    Proves my point about local bloggers, you in particular, being just a motor mouth with no substance.

    Here’s you chance to prove me and others wrong.
    Show the folks how smart and informed you are.

  5. Tracy says:

    To go back your question, Nicole, it’s a good description of the process. I agree that the CAC has changed (and since they and the City Manager, not, technically, the citizens directly, are those to whom you answer, that matters). As the various committees have direct oversight (and in some cases, some management and budgetary oversight as well) of various departments and areas of concerns, it’s great that they’re vetting by a group that takes an active interest in those applying.
    I also found the City Manager’s interview fairly intense, as they wanted to know that you knew something about the area in which you were applying and also something of how you’d work as a board member.

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