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Finding Volunteers for Commissions Is A Task That’s Easier Said Than Done

by Christine Stuart | Jul 25, 2013 1:00pm
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Posted to: State Capitol

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One of the file folders of past boards, commissions, and task forces in the Legislative Library

(Updated 5:51 p.m.) The saying goes that when the legislature doesn’t want to take action on an issue or needs more time to think about a public policy it appoints a task force, board, or commission to study the issue. But keeping up with thousands of appointments to hundreds of boards, task forces, and commissions isn’t easy for leaders of either political party.

“I have at least a thousand,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said citing the number of appointments he has to make.

This year alone the legislature created 30 boards, including the Child Obesity Task Force, a Commission on Connecticut’s Future, and a Funeral Service Task Force. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy did veto a bill that created a Bail Bonds Task Force, bringing the total number of boards down to 29. The legislature also eliminated 11 boards that weren’t active. But there still are hundreds more that are active, or somewhat active.

Sometimes it’s “extremely difficult to find people” to sit on the board, Cafero said.

It’s also difficult to find a volunteer who fits the job description in statute. For example, Cafero needs to appoint a “parent of a child that was involved in the juvenile justice system,” to the Juvenile Jurisdiction Policy and Operations Coordinating Council. He’s required to appoint a person with “experience in business and science related to healthcare delivery, medical devices, life sciences, insurance or information technology” to the Bioscience Innovation Advisory Committee, and he must find a person from New London County to appoint to the African American Affairs Commission. Each legislative leader has different criteria it must meet when they make appointments to the various boards.

“It’s so difficult to find people to serve,” Cafero said.

When an opening arises he emails his caucus to see if they know if anyone would be interested in serving. It’s the same tactic Sen. President Donald Williams, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, and Sen. Minority John McKinney take when they are looking to fill vacancies.

But make no mistake, Sharkey said these task forces and boards are helpful to a part-time legislature that’s only in session five months out of the year.

“We just don’t have enough time to properly vet a complicated issue and if we can form a task force to do that for us in the off session to give us a better understanding of it—then that’s a positive,” Sharkey said Thursday.

Despite the benefits, Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney said sometimes filling these positions is a challenge, because sometimes people come forward to volunteer and other times “you have to scour everywhere trying to get someone to serve.”

When individuals volunteer to sit on a board it makes things easy for lawmakers. Recently, Jim Cameron of Darien, who was on the former Metro North Commuter Rail Council, asked Cafero if he would appoint him to the new Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. Cafero said the decision to appoint Cameron was fairly simple. He had already served 18 years on the Metro North Commuter Rail Council, so he was uniquely qualified to sit on the new board that will tackle a wider range of train service issues across the state.

Other appointments aren’t as easy to make and it’s almost impossible for legislative leaders to know everyone personally. Most receive resumes and recommendations and hope the appointee doesn’t embarrass them.

“I have people come up to me all the time and thank me for appointing them to this commission or that commission, and I have no idea who they are,” Cafero said.

According to information provided by the four caucuses and Malloy’s office, there are more than 200 active commissions, councils, task forces, and boards which require legislative leadership or gubernatorial appointments. The governor alone has 1,600 appointments he needs to make to 232 commissions, and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey has 1,465 appointments to make to around 200 boards and commissions. The appointments come at various times during the year and there are staff whose only job is to keep track of the information and vacancies.

But it’s easier said than done.

State officials blew past their deadline to appoint volunteers to a task force that will weigh exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act that were carved out by the legislature in response to the Newtown shootings. The 17-member task force was supposed to be named by July 1.

Currently, there are so few commissioners on the State Elections Enforcement Commission that Stephen Cashman, who retired in December, has remained a member of the commission until a replacement is found.

Cashman was appointed 13 years ago by Robert Ward, Cafero’s predecessor. Cafero said he was unaware that Cashman had retired. In a phone interview, Cashman said that he was going to send another letter to Cafero to remind him of his retirement.

“If nothing happens in the next four or five months . . . Let’s just say this stuff is not easily picked up,” Cashman said of the commissions’ work.

The five-member commission is busiest during the statewide election cycles when they must approve all the Citizens’ Election Program applications for public funds. Cashman said that’s why he stepped down after the 2012 election to make sure there was time to fill the vacancy.

Joan Jenkins, a commissioner appointed in 2007 by Kevin Sullivan, died earlier this month. Her term also had expired, but she continued to serve until her death. In addition, Commissioner Richard Bozzuto’s term expired last year. He was appointed by Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney.

The three remaining commissioners include Cashman, Patricia Stankevicius, and Anthony Castagno.

A spokesman for McKinney said he is close to naming someone to fill the position. A spokesman for Williams said he is currently reviewing names.

And while it can be argued by most that the State Elections Enforcement Commission is an active and important commission, the same can’t be said for some of the other boards and commissions.

Cafero said some of the commissions never meet and never file a report to the legislature.

There are at least four file cabinet drawers in the legislative library’s archives dedicated to the thousands of commissions and boards created over the years by the legislature. The new and old information about the various boards and appointments is currently being entered into a computer database, which also is located at the legislative library.

If you are interested in volunteering contact the caucuses or the governor’s office. The phone number for the Senate Republican caucus is 860-240-8800, Senate Democratic caucus is 860-240-8600, House Republican caucus is 860-240-8700, and the House Democratic caucus is 860-240-8500. The governor’s office phone number is 860-566-4840.

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posted by: Jackawa | July 26, 2013  6:50am

Creating boards and commissions is a currently a farce. There should be a mechanism for following up on legislators that create them with some sort of penalty for those that obviously just seeking to sidestep an issue. It is disingenuous to give people the idea that they’re interested in doing something when, in fact, they’re not.