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Hundreds of empty seats on D.C. city commissions

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Local,Liz Farmer
Nearly one in every seven of the city's boards and commissions that help run the District's business sits empty more than nine months into the new mayoral administration as few resources have been funneled to the massive effort.

Just one full-time employee staffs the city's Office of Boards and Commissions, which is responsible for finding and vetting the mayor's nominations to the city's more than 150 boards and commissions. The problem?

"I walked into an administration where the previous administration had left a large number of board seats unfilled," said Ron Collins, the office's director.

Sampling of vacant commissions
CommissionSeatsIndustry
Emergency Medical Services Advisory Committee17health
D.C. State Mental Health Planning Council21human services
Destination DC3tourism
D.C. Occupational, Safety and Health Board7employment services
Homeland Security Commission7public safety
Source: Office of Boards and Commissions most recent vacancies list, August 2011

Since March, Collins has helped secure more than 110 appointments, including 34 that were approved by the D.C. Council. But according to Collins' own numbers, hundreds more vacancies remain -- including 21 boards or commissions that have no members.

Some empty boards are essential to conducting the business of serving city residents, and delays can be glaring. Most recently, the council extended the Oct. 1 deadline to form the new Real Property Tax Appeals Commission, which hears and makes decisions on taxpayer appeals. Members of the former appeals board were granted a service extension.

The new board was pushed for last year by then Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, who has created full-time and part-time salaried positions to professionalize the board. However, the new requirements also make it harder to fill seats on the board.

For example, commissioners must be licensed appraisers. But, according to the Appraisal Institute's database, there are only 130 MAI-certified appraisers in the D.C. area.

It's even harder to find candidates for the commissions that don't offer a stipend, Collins said.

That can lead to mistakes. Last month Gray withdrew Robert Mallett's nomination to head the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics because Mallett had not lived the required three years in D.C. before his nomination.

"That was my fault," Collins said. "After having so many people turn you down, you get excited when they say yes."

Collins isn't new at this job -- he held it before under Mayor Anthony Williams. But back then he had a staff of three people helping him.

Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said cost cuts have required employees like Collins to do more with less.

"With [the] resources available, [the office] is making good progress in filling seats as it carries out the mayor's mandate to assess and streamline current boards and commissions," McCoy said.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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