Put your money where your mouth is

Jason Baker's picture

Or more to the point, put a night or two a month where your mouth is.  Spring is coming, and spring means many things: bird starting to return, daffodils and hellebores popping up in bloom, Bradford pears soon to be unleashing their terrible stench upon anywhere unlucky enough to have planted them.  But spring is also the time when, at least in Chapel Hill, most of the appointments are made to advisory boards and commissions.  According to the town's current vacancies page, there are almost 20 seats on various boards that are currently sitting empty.  But on top of that, since most board terms are three years long, about a third of current board members will be coming up for reappointment. While terms officially end June 30, most appointments are made in the Spring - last year, most of them in April or May. So, right now is a great time to get your application in.

Don't live in Chapel Hill? Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Orange County are looking for folks too. Hillsborough's current board vacancies page is worth visiting just to see their awesome picture of Mayor Tom Stevens.

So which board are you going to join?

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12 Comments

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Apply yourself

I can't express strongly enough the importance of service on local government advisory boards.  In addition to doing the good work of helping our elected leaders make informed decisions, it is also an opportunity for people to learn the nuts and bolts of local issues and to develop and demonstrate their leadership skills.I served on the CH Transportation Board in the 1990's and was the chair of it (and was the youngest member at the time). I went on to join the town Planning Board in 2001, and also served as its chair before reaching my max-allowed 6 years of service. (I was about ready for a break by then!)More than anything else I've done, it was my experience on these and other advisory boards that give me the knowledge of local issues (and people and systems) that allows me to blog here informatively. I also think it's a big part of why anyone might care what I have to say about local issues. In fact, if you look at the qualifications of most of our local elected officials, they cut their teeth on advisory boards before they ran successfully for office.You don't have to be an expert to be a good advisory board member. You just have to care about something, be willing to learn, and open to public exchange of ideas. 

jondehart's picture

Agreed

I have now served on the T Board for over a year and it has been a great experience . I have learned alot and feel more connected to my community . We currently have 2 openinngs . Please apply ...

ldhintz's picture

Boards

I also would encourage everyone to serve. I am currently on the County Commision for the Environment but served on the Chapel Hill Transporation Board and found it to be especially informative. Enjoy!Loren

penny rich's picture

Ruby is right

"You don't have to be an expert to be a good advisory board member. You just have to care about something, be willing to learn, and open to public exchange of ideas."This is an important statement Ruby b/c I often talk to folks who don't sign up for boards b/c they think they are not qualified. When I first moved to Chapel Hill I applied to 2 boards. One was the tech. board which no longer exists, and the other was the OWASA board. I am not and engineer or expert on water but I knew that I wanted to protect my water source and joining this board was an amazing education that allowed me to make wise choices for our town and county. I strongly encourage folks who read this blog to dedicate some time to a board and please pass the word on that there are many board positions opening up. It is a great way to get involved with local issues and make a difference in our town. 

BrianR's picture

Boards are THE local gov education

I'll second Penny's comment about serving on boards being an amazing eduction. There is so much to learn about what goes on in our County and Towns. Unless you listen to the folks involved in government and read a bunch you're in the dark.

With your new understand of "the way things work" you'll become a more informed voter AND understand the history of your community. All really important parts of living in a democracy.

I've been on some really challenging boards. But Ruby always encouraged me to stick it out. I have and I think it has been worth it. I know more and have built real built wonderful relationships in my community.

Molly De Marco's picture

Time commitment?

Can any of you say a bit about the time commitment? How long does one serve on a board? Are meetings monthly? Copious amounts of reading in between?I'm sure it varies some based on the board. 

Erin Crouse's picture

My experience

Members of Chapel Hill advisory boards serve a three-year term. I'm on the Parks and Recreation Commission, and on average I spend a couple of hours  preparing for our monthly meeting. Sometimes there are extra meetings and more things on the agenda (like the development agreement for Carolina North), but the workload is usually reasonable. The time commitment can vary depending on the board, the agenda, and/or the time of year, though.  

Jason Baker's picture

My experience

I think there's some room for variability. It would be very easy to let being a board member become a significant time sink, but it doesn't have to be. My most recent experience has been on the Chapel Hill planning board, which meets twice a month for typically about two hours, though sometimes meetings are shorter than an hour and occasionally weighty agendas will go on for more than three. Some other boards only meet monthly and are less of a commitment. The materials we receive to read ahead of time vary quite a bit in length, so preparation time is also variable. Our last meeting had about 200 pages of materials, of which 150 were for a single SUP. That include maps, and a lot of the text is boilerplate so you can read it faster (though you should still read it to make sure it says what you expect it to say)!  Our next meeting only has one item on the agenda currently and it's the returning SUP, so there's very little new material to go over - just rereading parts to make sure I feel like I have any lingering questions answered.In addition to reading, I usually try to familiarize myself with any site I don't know well that comes up in our packet. That might be as simple as making a detour in your commute to go by the area in question, or looking at it in Google Maps (Street View has been a great resource and I sometimes find myself looking at it even during meetings when I don't quite understand something from the description). If you're particularly interested in an issue, it's probably not a bad idea to watch the Council discussion germane to your item, which is much more convenient now that you can watch meetings online, including past meetings. And certainly there are lots of related work sessions, community discussions, and other meetings that are helpful to attend, but not required. Many boards also may have subcommittees, which would allow you to tailor your experience to your interest and available time. Time commitment might also vary depending on one's knowledge of a subject matter. I've found public meetings can be lingo heavy, which can be tough if you're new to a topic, but staff and other board members are there to help. The important part is being thoughtful, and don't feel like you have to be an expert to volunteer. As Brian said above, serving on a board is a great way to gain experience. I'd be interested to know what other people's experiences have been like! Certainly some of what I wrote is pretty specific to boards that play a role in planning or reviewing development in some way, which many boards do, but there are other boards with a completely different charge.

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Time

That's a great question, Molly. In addition to the good answers above, I'll just add that the higher-profile boards tend to have the greatest workload. For example OWASA, Planning, and Transportation boards come to mind. Especially the first two, because they actually have decision-making authority. Most of the other boards just act in an advisory capacity, so it's a slightly lower level of responsibility.

George C's picture

Add to your list

the Community Design Commission (CDC).  The CDC is the only board that sees a project three times - as a concept plan, as an SUP (special use permit), and for final approval of elevations and lighting.  The CDC also has final approval of duplexes.

I've been interested in the possibility

of joining the Animal Services Advisory Board for a while now as a way to combine my love for animals, having worked at a few vet clinics, and as someone interested in local gov.  But evening classes have made that impossible for the time being.I'm on the verge of graduating with an MPA and I'm searching for jobs in the triangle area and across the country too, and I'd be interested in joining once I can know that I can stay in the area long enough to serve at least 1 term.  A 3 year term though is kind of long for a student to get involved with, since its nearly as long as a bachelors degree, and longer than a masters degree, you kind of have to figure out that you're interested in this stuff, and know what/where your job will be after you graduate to boards as a student it seems like.  At least by May I hope to know if I'll get to stay in the area, and get a day job so that I can be open for evening meetings.