Bob Blumenfield/ photo by Warren Hill
By Bob Blumenfield, Los Angeles City Councilmember
Councilmember Bob Blumenfield addressed the Liberty Hill Commissions Training program offered by our Wally Mark Leadership Institute in June 2013 and offered five pithy pieces of advice to would-be commissioners. He covered everything from "Do commissions matter?" to "How do you get appointed?" Here’s an edited version of his remarks.
1. Do commissions matter? Yes! Elected officials need to harness the power and expertise of labor and community leaders to help make things happen. Force multiplying is a necessity. In LA alone we have more than 50 part time boards and commissions dealing with everything from our Harbors to our Parks to our Convention Center to cultural heritage.
2. What’s the role of a commissioner? Commissioners are not rock throwers. It’s a different role. Your charge is to help government. You are there as partners - to exercise judgment, make decisions and be accountable. Most commissions are a voluntary delegation of authority by elected officials. A good commissioner is one who wants to help elected officials succeed in solving problems.
3. Who serves on a commission? A small-d democrat. People who want to participate in democracy and see a better process in place. I look for people who can do the job but also someone who will be a partner with me who are true to a set of values and beliefs.
4. How do you get appointed? It’s not a straight meritocracy. You’re not being chosen because you’re the best functionary. You’re being chosen because you reflect the ideals and the goals of your appointing authority and because you can get the job done and you’re going to be working in partnership with them.
You are more likely to be appointed with commissions if you get involved with your local elected officials. They not only create their own commissions, appoint and suggest appointees to commissions, but they are often the ones who rely on these commissions. I’ve helped many people get appointed to commissions and they were people I’ve come across who had particular knowledge, expertise, or experience in certain areas. Yes, the appointing authorities of any particular commission take resumes over the transom and some people get appointed this way. But, commissioners are not employees in the traditional sense – they are not supposed to be hired and chosen based on merit alone. They are being chosen to provide advice and judgment and to be an extension of elected officials. They are therefore chosen in a much more discretionary manner.
5. Why do it? Most commissioners only receive bad coffee and danishes for their efforts. It often takes time, money and effort just to get the post, and all that work is just to have the privilege of working your tail off. You are a lightning rod for the public’s anger or concern on an issue. There’s little glory and it doesn’t make up for the many hours you put into the work. All that said, you’re helping make our democratic system work and it’s something that can be enormously gratifying.
Five of the people who participated in Liberty Hill's June Commissions Training program have been appointed to city, county or state commissions or boards: Joe Bernardo to El Pueblo Monument Authority, Adine Foreman to County Workforce Investment Board, Tai Glenn to City Rent Adjustment Commission, Shawn Landres to County Quality and Productivity Commission and Effie Turnbull Sanders to California Coastal Commission. We will be hearing from these new comissioners in an upcoming blog post.