During the past few years, I’ve served as a member of the Community Health and Senior Services Commission (CHSSC) in Los Gatos. For most of that time, our commission, which is supposed to have six adult members and one youth member, has had one or two adult commissioner vacancies. CHSSC is about to lose two more commissioners, which will mean we will have three adult members missing, unless we are able to recruit replacements. The lack of a full slate of commissioners impairs our ability to do our work.
Unfortunately, many other boards and commissions also fall short of enrolling a full team. I attribute this lack of full participation to several causes.
Residency requirement: The town requires an applicant to many of its boards and commissions to be a resident of the town. If you’ve worked in the town for 30 years but live elsewhere or own real property in town but live elsewhere you may nevertheless be disqualified from serving. I know of one prominent local individual who works in Los Gatos, who would like to apply to our commission, yet this person appears unable to, without meeting the residency requirement. Many other towns in the area likewise have residency requirements. Nevertheless, perhaps it is time for Los Gatos to revisit its residency requirements, since the requirement may be doing more harm than good.
Recruitment: Recruitment is another area of concern. I encourage others to join CHSSC, as do other existing members. The town also regularly posts information about vacancies existing on boards and commissions. However, more can be done. For example, the town has several events every year during which it could promote its boards and commissions. Why not have a booth present at our Promenade events where active recruitment can occur, for example? Moreover, why not distribute and post flyers about board and commission vacancies at the library, senior center, recreational center and elsewhere in town? Why not devote a portion of town council meetings several times a year to describing the importance of our boards and commissions while presenting facts about them that attract potential applicants?
Board and Commission members telling stories: If the town council holds meetings during which it discusses the benefits of serving on boards and commissions, why not supplement these discussions by having existing board members and commissioners describe their work? No doubt these dedicated citizens can persuasively speak about the benefits of serving on a board and commission, which include improving our town, learning a lot, and making new friends and connections.
When I applied to be on the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission in Palo Alto, it worked under the radar. Few people knew what we did, let alone that our commission even existed. Our members turned that image around by writing articles about the commission’s work for publication in the local newspaper and telling friends and colleagues about our work. To further arouse interest in our commission we held forums on issues that while not necessarily of local concern, were nevertheless issues of interest to citizens. For example, we held a packed house forum on whether the city should support a resolution opposing the death penalty.
People are often surprised to learn about the interesting and challenging work boards and commissions do. In Palo Alto, we dealt with important issues, such as whether the police should have tasers, racial profiling, cameras on police cars, and funding for the Boy Scouts. Similarly, CHSSC in Los Gatos worked on a highly important issue concerning deficiencies in senior services, leading to an infusion of $500,000 to improve senior services. Few people know that CHSSC’s scope of work is so broad, it allows commissioners to consider numerous areas to focus on, from whether our town should allow cannabis dispensaries to set up shop, to how we can ameliorate the isolation seniors in our community face.
Our current members should be regularly encouraged by the town government to let people know that serving on a board and commission provides tremendous opportunities for tackling such challenging issues, and many opportunities for using and improving creativity skills.
Retention: To keep our commissions staffed, our town council can hold an appreciation event during which board and commission members celebrate their contributions to making the town a better place to live and work.
Conclusion: Our government relies on an active and committed citizenry to thrive. Perhaps it is time to revisit the ways in which we can make this happen.
Jeffrey P. Blum is a family law mediator who lives in Los Gatos.