Earlier this summer, when Hyattsville city staffers started looking into the status of the city's municipal committees, boards and commissions, Acting City Administrator Elaine Stookey noticed something odd.
"I was a little confused, because there were so many different term dates in everyone's committee," said Stookey during a discussion over the state of the city's appointed bodies. Normally, committee terms begin and end in unison.
The disarrayed term dates signaled a problem, with how the city was managing its council-appointed advisory bodies.
Of the six committees, boards and commissions which had been active in recent memory, only one (the Board of Elections Supervisors) was legitimately serving. All others, including the Planning Commission, the Shade Tree Board, the Hyattsville Environmental Committee and the Code Enforcement Committee were all either vacant or lacking a proper mission statement.
Of the six seemingly active council appointed bodies, only three–the Planning Commission, the Shade Tree Board and a new Ethics Commission–are mentioned in the city code or charter, according to City Attorney Richard Colaresi. The bodies are all advisory in nature–none of their decisions are binding upon city government–but the Hyattsville City Council does regularly seek input from committee membership in some areas, particularly on matters of eco-sustainability, a policy arena where the Hyattsville Environmental Committee exerts considerable influence over council decisions.
West Hyattsville resident Jennifer Kubit asked the city council to make sure that there was more representation from wards four and five on the city's various committees, boards and commissions.
, said during the meeting that the problem of expired terms for the city's committees, boards and commissions was "just same old, same old."
"We never thought it was our responsibility to track these," said Faye to the city council.
Jim Groves, former chair of the Hyattsville Environmental Committee said that keeping a full membership on the committee had become an issue. Groves also noted that most members of his committee were from Ward 2.
"We need more members," said Groves to council. "I encourage all council members to really reach out to your constituents who are greenies, if you will, or at least care about our environment."
But the problems were not just in membership. Even when serving in good standing, Stookey's memo noted that many of the city's appointed bodies had not been in compliance with state open meeting law.
Mayor Marc Tartaro promised to develop an Maryland Open Meetings Act training plan for members of the city's appointed committee, boards and commissions. City Attorney Richard Colaresi offered to train committee members in this regard.
Tartaro also called for a central page on the city website which would host information about the city's various committees, boards and commissions. This page, said Tartaro, would include information for prospective committee members who might be curious to see how much of a time commitment might be necessary to serve on a municipal body.
At this point, the future of the city's committees, boards and commissions appears fluid. With only three of the advisory bodies actually called for by law, some members of the apparently now defunct committees suggested that some of the committees, such as the Environmental Committee and the dormant Bike Pedestrian Committee, could be merged together. There was also talk of re-establishing a municipal education advisory committee.
The next steps the city council needs to take to rectify the city's advisory board situation, according to Stookey and Colaresi, is to adopt mission statements for the committees it wishes to maintain. After that, it will be time to seek out volunteers willing and able to serve on the city's committees.
That might be the most daunting task of all.