Serving on Boards and Commissions—Is it Worth Your Time?

On Saturday, August 23, 2014 from noon to 2 p.m. there will be a “lunch and learn” community forum at the COGIC Youth Center at 817 N. Jefferson Street. The forum is being sponsored by the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats. The event is entitled, “Listen and Lead.” According to the notice in today’s Amarillo Globe News, “the purpose of the event is not only to provide attendees with information on the boards, but more importantly… to find out which boards will make the most impact on residents in the 79107 area which spans roughly from West Hastings Avenue and Pullman Road to North Lakeside Drive and East Amarillo Boulevard.” The announcement of the forum includes a statement by Amarillo’s Mayor Paul Harpole saying: “we want representation from all over the community…we are always looking for good participation for those boards. It’s really important.”

Let me say that civic participation at any level is important, however if I had a choice between a volunteer, non-paying, advisory board and a good paying city job I would take the good paying city job. The City of Amarillo is woefully lacking in a diverse work force among all its city departments. What about a forum on city jobs??

So what does participation on an advisory board mean? I’ve served on a bunch of boards. I served on a Tourism Board, Library Board, Historical Preservation Board, City Home Improvement and Rehabilitation Board. I chaired a local Historical Commission. I also served as a Board of Director for the Colorado Historical Society. I also served on a board to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. You need plenty of available time to participate in board meetings, many of which are held during day-time working hours. So first off you must be flexible enough to attend meetings—and attendance at meetings is absolutely required or you will be removed from the board.

Participation on civic boards is a good starting point for a future in politics. Ever heard the expression, “all politics is local,” a statement made by the late Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill. What he meant is that what happens in your city will have a greater impact on your life than what happens in Washington, D. C. You are more impacted by local taxing authorities, such as local school board decisions and taxes, water boards, and local utilities that directly affect your pocketbook than by much of what is going on either in Austin or Washington, D. C. And, if you get a good grasp of local politics, then run for local elected office, you have laid a foundation for furthering your political career. Local boards and commissions have been the starting point for many well-known politicians.

Participation on advisory boards is a good place to meet people—some of whom have some influence and “connections.” Advisory board participation is also good for one’s personal resume. It reflects positively on your willingness to donate your time for the common good—without pay. Employers like to see volunteerism indicating a willingness to take on new challenges. Advisory board participation can also reflect well on you “people skills.” Participation on advisory boards also gives you “substance knowledge” about how city departments and agencies function. For a place like the City of Amarillo, participation on a board can help you to learn the managerial “flow chart” of how the city works, and especially what voices impact the decisions made by city leaders. After all, city leaders do not represent themselves, they represent the community. So, to the extent that boards and commissions act as advisors to the eventual decision making process by city leaders, diverse input from all sectors is important.

Participation on boards and commission can also positively affect the negative “disaffect” felt by so many in certain parts of Amarillo—namely that there is a core segment of folks “in the loop” who run the city of Amarillo. However, board participation for people in the 79107 zip code should not be limited to city activities that only impact the geographical area described above. People living in the 79107 area code will benefit, or pay the price, of the City’s decision to build a downtown baseball stadium and parking garage complex that is not located in the 79107 zip code. So I take offense that the “Learn and Lead” forum is segregating residents in the 79107 zip code to participation on boards and commissions for a confined “area of impact.” If this is indeed the approach, then single member districts for the current Amarillo city council should be revisited. If people living in the 79107 area code can only participate on boards that directly impact the activities in this zip code, then we need a single member district council member to represent our interest.

Again, I say, the City of Amarillo needs to increase the diversity of good paying jobs for people in the 79107 zip code. But, having said that I say that participation on boards and commission is a good thing. There is not enough diversity within all the departments of the City of Amarillo—paid and unpaid.

Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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