Is there a municipal board in Jersey City that you want to serve on?
Learn how this coming Thursday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m. at a citywide leadership forum, “Volunteering for Board Service,” also known as “Call to Service in Jersey City” sponsored by Civic JC, the Heights Coalition, and the Downtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations (DCNA).
The forum will be held in the City Council Chambers, City Hall, at 280 Grove St. in Jersey City.
Led by the statewide organization Citizens’ Campaign, the forum will inform citizens about the appointments process and the political leveraging techniques for getting appointed to serve on a local board, commission, agency, or authority. The forum will also provide details on the roles, composition, and requirements of the municipal boards. Also, there will be discussion on the following topics: becoming a political committeeperson, becoming a citizen legislator, and serving as a "citizen journalist.”
“It’s everyone’s democracy; everyone has to be involved.” – Robert Byrne
The survey (www.civicjc.org) evaluated 16 areas of the city’s civic infrastructure based in three different structures: city government, the city’s school system, and the Democratic and Republican party structure in Jersey City.
The results of the survey found that four of the 16 areas were positive, nine were lacking, and three needed improvement. One of those areas in need of improvement was the number of vacancies in citizen positions on boards, commissions, and authorities within the municipal government.
Jersey City has 39 boards – from the Ethical Standards Board to the Zoning Board of Adjustment – and to be considered for a vacant position, one has to write a letter of interest to their councilperson and Mayor Jerramiah Healy to be appointed by the City Council to fill said vacancy.
Looking for a few good people
What is important about becoming a volunteer on one of the city’s boards?
City Clerk Robert Byrne, who will be present at the forum to speak briefly and give out application forms, summed up why people should have an interest in serving on a municipal board.
“It’s everyone‘s democracy; everyone has to be involved,” Byrne said. “The more people involved the better, and there are enough people in Jersey City that you can fill out these boards.”
Byrne also said not all municipal boards are alike. For example, there is what he terms “superboards,” created by state statute such as the boards for the Parking Authority and Incinerator Authority, and there are the boards created by city ordinance such as the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Byrne’s office keeps track of the boards and the vacancies, information which Byrne plans to put on the city’s website. That is a product of not only Byrne’s longtime efforts toward public transparency, but also the recent legislation signed by outgoing governor Jon Corzine last month called the Citizen Service Act, opening up the appointments process for municipal boards and commissions.
Lauren Skowronski, the organization's state campaign director for Citizens’ Campaign (which drafted the Citizen Service Act), says the act will help in the long-term for municipalities that have been woefully lacking in making public available seats on their municipal boards. Skowronski says that what also helps are informational workshops like the one on the 19th, similar to ones that Citizens’ Campaign conducts across the state. Skowronski will also speak at the forum.
“We definitely find there is a lack of awareness across the state for those who want to participate on their local board,” Skowronski said. However, she did note that Jersey City has a “wonderful” civic community where many people are actively involved in knowing about the workings of their government, and where there are fewer board vacancies compared to other cities such as Newark.
The forum is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending should RSVP to Andrew Hubsch at email@example.com.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.