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.