More citizens should get a shot at civic involvement
Jun 08, 2014 | 2578 views | 0 0 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Dear Editor:

Mayor Steve Fulop and The Citizens Campaign recently announced a new collaboration aimed at empowering Jersey City residents to bring their talents, energy, and ideas to the city government with the goal of developing a new force of citizen problem-solvers actively building a better Jersey City. Included in the effort will be a Jersey City Call to Service Summit on June 14th opportunities to serve on City boards and commissions. Civic JC is co-sponsor of this important event.

Even if the Call to Service Summit is a great success however, there will be one important piece of unfinished business. Jersey City has yet to implement the Citizen Service Act, a state law enacted in October 2009. The law requires the municipal clerk to compile and maintain a directory of all local authorities, boards and commissions listing members’ names, terms and any vacancies. The law also requires a one-page application “Citizen Leadership Form.” Well before this law was enacted, this issue was a concern for then Councilman Steve Fulop, who in 2006 issued a press release and proposed a law, supported by Civic JC, that would require the mayor to publicly post all vacancies on municipal boards, committees and independent authorities for a period of two weeks, and to accept and review all applications for the vacant position. At that time he was pushing for more oversight on political appointments and sought to curtail nepotism and patronage on public boards and independent authorities.

The long overdue implementation of The Citizen Service Act would help to realize his objective. In the absence of open application procedures for citizen positions, qualified community residents are neither informed of openings nor able to easily apply.

As a result, citizen seats on municipal boards and commissions are often left vacant, have appointees serving expired terms or are filled with less qualified people. Lapses in boards not being properly constituted can have serious consequences such as legal challenges against the city. Open application procedures foster citizen leadership and provide a means for regular citizens to participate and better hold their government officials accountable.

The upcoming Call to Service Summit is an excellent opportunity to implement the state requirements for opening up the appointment process. The Citizen Service Act will provide a much more diverse pool of candidates to choose from, and Citizens of Jersey City will be able to formally apply for positions which have direct influence on policy that affects them. These measures would provide Jersey City with a broader base for the selection of qualified candidates and would also create a standard and efficient way of responding to citizens interested in filling seats on boards and commissions. We look forward to the Jersey City Call to Service Summit and opening up the appointment process with a swift implementation of the Citizen Service Act.

Aaron Morrill
President, Civic JC

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