The Misnomer of Commission Participation

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Overview of experience:
I was appointed to a . I was pretty excited as the topic is important to me  and aligns with the values that made me want to live in Arlington. Plus the commitment was limited to 3-4 hours per month.

The topics were big and juicy, there was much to discuss. The county staff did three presentations back to back and there was limited time for Q&A but only 3 people said anything. The chair essentially said great, let’s write a letter and then we were done. After that first meeting, I reached out to a friend who was also on the commission and asked why only 3 of the 15 people there spoke.

I soon learned that being on a commission was about assent. When I asked too many question, the chair would call me and make comments that were aimed at shutting me down. When I used data from other sources, I was told to use the data provided. And, my favorite, was that we were an advisory group, not an advocacy group – ummm what’s the difference? Were we not trying to advocate for a better arlington and provide the board with ideas to make all of us more successful?

Other interesting points include:
1. only bringing topics in that were so far down the decision track, no changes could be made
2. Staff doing death by PowerPoint and constraining the amount of time for discussion
3. No feedback loop when we asked the staff for more information. They would just smile and nod.

Issue: , communication, , commissions

Impact of experience: wasted commissioners time, had no impact on results, undermined community engagement

Some suggested solutions:
Decide what the purpose of commissions are, engage them earlier in the process, define advocacy vs advisory

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