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Will Nixing Terms Fix Hyattsville Committees?

Hyattsville's appointed committees are a mess of expired terms and vacancies. What if there were no terms?

If city leaders are having a hard time keeping track of appointments to Hyattsville's advisory boards, commissions and committees, why not do away with terms of office?

That's the idea of Stuart Eisenberg, who last night encouraged the Hyattsville City Council to think of creative solutions to the city's currently disorganized appointed advisory bodies.

As a result of sloppy record keeping, all but one of the city's appointed bodies are hamstrung by vacancies and ilegitimacy issues. Many lack codified mission statements. A number of them are not in full compliance with open meeting laws.

Eisenberg, director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation and a member of the apparently illegitimate (or at least poorly documented) city Shade Tree Board, pressed the city to act fast to sort out the committee mess. 

"The shade tree board is a working board, and there is a lot of work left to do," said Eisenberg. "Appoint people until otherwise removed, so we don't get left in the lurch."

"Is your suggestion that committee and shade tree board members have life sentences?" inquired a joking Mayor Marc Tartaro during Eisenberg's speech at the public comment portion of last night's city council meeting. 

"No, please, just a different model," responded Eisenberg. 

While rare in American politics, the idea of a political position without a term of office is common in parliamentary democracies, where a prime minister serves indefinitely until subject to a successful vote of no confidence which then triggers an election. 

Later in the meeting, city council members agreed on a rough plan to fill vacancies sort out legal frameworks for committees one at a time, starting with the Hyattsville Environmental Committee.

Jim Groves October 09, 2012 at 05:35 PM
The City and the Council Members do not do a good job promoting these committees. The Council members need to understand that the committees are there to lessen the burden of the City, as well as the Council, so they should be out there talking to their constituents and drumming up business. It's crazy that, for example, the Environment Committee has 4 or 5 people that show up and almost all of us are from Ward 2. Are there no environmentalist in the other wards? The City needs to maybe start from a clean slate. List all committees and get a list everyone who is known to have been appointed. Add to that list anyone who has been coming to the meetings and wishes to serve. Immediately put them on a one year term. Each committee should, if nothing else, provide a list of who attended the meetings throughout the year. Each November (or whatever month), those who have been attending and are on the committee are renewed until the next year. If someone comes on the committee in June, that's ok, they are automatically renewed (if they choose) in November. That way the renewal is always the same month and you don't have to keep track of who joined when.
Mark Ferguson October 09, 2012 at 08:53 PM
I find this whole issue and the resulting discussion a little humorous, given my experience that it has always been thus. The current proliferation of boards/committees started perhaps twenty years ago, and since that time the Council has struggled to find sufficient numbers of members (let alone retain their participation after their appointment), and has not generally provided staff support for preparation of minutes required by law for all City-appointed boards and committees since the 1991 Open Meetings Act changes. This is not a criticism of Council; the fact is that strict compliance - particularly the responsibility to record and publish minutes - is a fairly significant amount of work to expect from a volunteer group, and the record of the City's committees has only ever been at best, spotty. Making staff commitments to support the committees involves evening commitments and overtime. And yes, Jim, some wards are always over-represented, and other wards have always struggled to provide volunteers. Stuart's roll-over suggestions make a lot of sense, but would address only one of the long-standing problems. If there is a sincere desire to fix more of the problems, it means: (1) reducing the size of most of the boards and committees to the size where a quorum can reliably be expected; (2) removing ward representation requirements where possible; and (3) providing dedicated staff support for publishing schedules, agendas and keeping minutes.
stuart eisenberg October 10, 2012 at 06:39 AM
Michael, I truly do appreciate your calling attention to the need for better oversight and management of the Committees, even if I find your treatment of the subject hyperolic and overwrought. I get it. Patch sells advertisements and needs traffic on the site. I do take note that the period when the three senior members of the Shade Tree Board's terms sunsetted in early April of 2012, coincides with the departure of City Clerk Douglass Barber, whose duties included tracking Committee terms. So for me the issue comes back to the extended hiring gaps in key staff positions. Serving on both a City Board and a City Committee, I take issue with your characterization of the Committees themselves being disorganized. Certainly not when it comes to our work product. On the Shade Tree Board we are certainly not hamstrung, we function at a high level despite the large demand for tree removal permit review. Is it onerous not being sufficiently staffed with volunteers? Yes, but preserving the City's tree canopy, and volunteering for the community is worth the effort. The bigger issue here is not committee disarray, it is the appropriate allocation of resources and recruitment of Hyattsville-based volunteers, and the paucity of willing people to take on undervalued, and sometimes burdensome service. When is Patch going to start highlighting the terrific volunteers who show up, take on the issues of their community, whether their appointments are up to date or not?
Michael Theis October 10, 2012 at 07:15 AM
Probably after I go to bed. You should, too.
Scurvy November 05, 2012 at 08:49 PM
It is like Hyattsville to talk an issue to death and not make any progress to remedying the situation. Unless it is a Councilperson/Mayor pet project.

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