There was a recent discussion at the Board of Selectman as to how we fill seats on boards and commissions. On most of our boards and commissions the ordinances that establish these entities have requirements of proportionality. That means that there is a maximum number of members who can be from one political party. Unaffiliated or independent people do not affect the calculation.
Therefore, for many of the positions which come open, and for which the Board of Selectmen make appointments, we are limited to choosing members from one party or an independent or unaffiliated person. When positions become open, my office will inform the leadership of one party (if the seat must be filled by a member of that party), or of both parties if the position may be filled by either party within the restrictions of proportionality.
We also make the general public aware of openings because independents or unaffiliates as well as those with party affiliations may apply directly to the Board of Selectmen and ask to serve. Lastly, either town political party committee may nominate an independent or unaffiliated person. They still would count for proportionality as not being a member of a party. If people approach me directly I make a habit of interviewing them and then they may be proposed for nomination and appointment to the particular board or commission. As a board we also review their résumé.
Recently, there has been an increase in people who do have party affiliations approaching me directly because they are interested in serving the town. It has been argued that the town committee provides a necessary vetting function, but I believe that at the end of the day it is the selectmen’s duty to appoint people and that is still the ultimate determinate of who serves. Just because someone belongs to a political party, they should not be discouraged from approaching the selectmen directly. Otherwise, because of proportionality, the town Democratic and Republican town committees are able to dictate who will serve, rather than having the selectmen make that determination as provided by ordinance. Allowing any person to apply to the selectmen directly, I believe, leads to a more fair and democratic process.
When it comes to committees whose members are elected, there are also proportionality requirements. Often elections are essentially uncontested because a particular seat must be filled by a member of a particular party. The person appears on a ballot but they are assured of being elected. Sometimes, such as on the board of education this year, there are two open seats, but to fulfill proportionality one member of each party must be elected. Therefore, the candidates chosen by each town committee will be elected automatically. The same rules for independents and unaffiliates apply.
However, it is very difficult for independent or unaffiliated people to get on the ballot by themselves (requires petitions and a lengthy process). They can be nominated by the caucuses of either party, and be placed on the ballot that way. Again, an independent or unaffiliated person would not figure in the proportionality calculations. Hopefully this clarifies the processes for elected and appointed boards and commissions.