, Newburyport, MA

February 1, 2013

Review may eliminate certain boards

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — As stipulated by the revised City Charter, Mayor Thatcher Kezer will soon form a special committee to review the city’s existing boards and commissions and determine if any of them are no longer necessary.

The review will be conducted as a way to hit the refresh button on Amesbury’s government makeup, which Kezer said includes numerous boards and commissions that originated back when Amesbury still had a town form of government and have fallen dormant over time.

“There are a lot of boards and commissions made back in the town government days by volunteers with functions that we may not even need anymore,” Kezer said. “So this will be the opportunity to look at that and prune out what’s not necessary and then look at how we want to go forward.”

There are currently 26 boards and commissions in Amesbury, not including the mayor’s office, the City Council and the numerous subcommittees that proliferate in city government. Over 130 people make up those boards and commissions, and Kezer said that finding people to fill all of those seats is often a struggle.

“It’s been a challenge overall of filling boards,” Kezer said. “That’s just an ongoing thing.”

In order to scale back on the unnecessary boards, a new provision was included in the City Charter approved in 2011 dictating that every 10 years starting in 2013 a committee would be formed to review the city’s boards and commissions. A similar provision was included for the city’s codes and ordinances as well, with the first 10-year cycle scheduled to begin in 2018.

The intention is that every five years, a review process will be carried out to ensure that outdated aspects of the government can be identified and dealt with.

Kezer didn’t specify what the timetable for this process would be, only that it would be happening this year, but said he wants the City Council to be involved and is looking for their feedback.

Eric Gregoire, the mayor’s chief of staff, recently met with members of the City Council at their annual goal-setting meeting, and during the meeting he asked them to send the mayor their opinion on the board’s makeup and if they were interested in serving themselves.

“The conversation with council leadership is discussing how we want to do this, who should be on it,” Kezer said. “It’s something we want to do cooperatively with the City Council.”

The boards and commissions in Amesbury vary in size and makeup, but all are comprised of volunteers serving staggered terms so that roughly one-third of the group is up for re-election or re-appointment every year. The mayor or City Council appoints most of the members, but residents elect some committee members, including the members of the School Committee and the Planning Board.

Vacancies are a common occurrence on most of the boards, but usually that doesn’t impede the board’s ability to perform its function.

“Some have been inactive because there is nothing for them to do,” Gregoire said. “They’ve served a purpose and they’re just still on the books.”

The Tree Board was a notable exception for a while, which caused a lot of problems for development efforts and some consternation among residents concerned about unauthorized tree cutting, but Kezer said new appointments have been made over the past six months and the board is back to active status.