If you are not ready to put yourself out there as a candidate for an office, and would like to serve the town in a meaningful capacity, you should consider requesting appointment to a board or committee. Appointments are made:
- Annually, for positions that have incumbants
- Throughout the year, when there are vacancies for either appointed or elected offices
Thinking about Holding and Appointed Office
If you want to seek an appointment, the things you should think about are:
- The position you are seeking
- The time commitment
- Experience – what you bring to the job
- Potential conflict of interest
The Position You Are Seeing
A candidate should not seek office to change things that the office or position cannot change, so it is wise to be familiar with the scope of authority of the office as well as the mission and operation of the board or committee before throwing making such an important decision.
A prospective candidate should talk to current committee members, attend committee meetings and read the laws or bylaws that govern the responsibilities of the position to find out what the committee or board does. The Harvard Town web site lists all Appointed Offices with links to pages for each board or committee. On those pages you will find:
- Information about the mission and activities of the board
- Who appoints members, usually the Board of Selectmen (BOS)
- A list of current members (including vacancies)
- Agenda for the next posted meeting and minutes from previous meetings
You will also find a summary on this website under Appointed Offices.
You can following what’s happening on the boards and committees by:
- Reading the Harvard Press and paying attention to articles and deliberations by the board or committee you are interested in. Letters to the Editor often reflect current topics of controversy and the manner in which boards and committees deal with them
- Watching board meetings on Harvard’s cable television. The schedule is posted on the HCTV website, and recasts of many meetings may be found on the Harvard Cable TV YouTube channel.
Watching or attending the board meetings is one of the best ways to get a sense of how the board manages itself, its meetings, and its commitments.
Local volunteers, appointees and elected officials often have other jobs and responsibilities. A candidate should weigh the balance between his or her qualifications and the demands of other commitments. A commitment to serve as a local official requires:
- Attendance at meetings
- Being available for committee work outside scheduled meetings
- Time to research or become familiar with topics that may be presented to or discussed
At times during the year, committee work may necessitate frequent meetings and last-minute schedule changes, for example, during the winter months when boards may prepare articles for approval by Town Meeting.
In addition, it is important for a public officials to be accessible. Most voluntary town positions do not have secretarial assistance or other office support. Family members will often have to take calls and messages.
While experience and skills in subjects related to the activities of a board or committee can be important, it is not necessary to be an expert in order to be a good contributor. Some of the more important aspects of experience that count are:
- A genuine interest in the field that the committee oversees
- Experience working in teams. All boards and committees have at least three members, so you will need to have a demonstrated ability to listen and work collaboratively
- A willingness to learn. You are not expected to have all the answers when you first show up for the job, but you must be willing to become informed and acquire the knowledge you need to make a contribution.
If you are interested in a board but not sure about running a campaign, consider presenting yourself as a potential appointee for a vacancy. When board and committee members resign before the end of their term, the Board of Selectmen appoints replacement members upon the recommendation of the board itself. See “Seeking or Accepting Appointed Positions.”
You may also think about volunteer organizations that support the board or committee. For example, if you are interested in the School Committee, become active in Harvard P.T.O. Similarly, if you are interested in the Conservation Commission, you might join the Harvard Conservation Trust and volunteer to contribute to their activities. This kind of volunteering can provide you with first-hand knowledge about the work, and you will get to know the people who currently serve on these boards. You can find a list of volunteer organizations in the Village Nursery School Phone Book.
Potential Conflict of Interest
All public officials are required to review and abide by the Massachusetts Conflict of Interest Laws. If there are any circumstances related to your employment interests or investments that could put you in conflict, it would be wise to get advice before seeking office.
How to Get Appointed
The procedures are slightly different for being appointed to vacancies and for regular appointments. In either case, you will need to fill out the Town of Harvard Volunteer Application, available on the town website.
Committees with Vacancies
Vacancies for committees can be filled at any time. The list of current vacancies is always available on the Town Web Site (Committees with Vacancies). You can fill out the form and forward it to the Town Executive Assistant (whose email is given on the web site). You may also wish to express your interest in the position to current members of the committee and request their support for your appointment.
If the position is one that is appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the Executive Assistant will schedule a time for your application to be reviewed at a BOS meeting, and distribute your application to the board/committee chair as well as all of the Selectmen. The committee chair is encouraged to contact the volunteer. The volunteer and committee member are scheduled to come to a Board of Selectmen meeting together. The Board likes to know the volunteer has been vetted by the committee. Although the Board has the final say it has been their practice to accept feedback from the committee/board before making the appointment. You should be prepared to give a short summary of why you are interested in the position, your qualifications and availability.
If there are multiple candidates for the position, the BOS will review them all at the same time.
Committee members are appointed for one-, two-, or three-year terms, in a way that seats become open on a staggered basis. Each year following Town Meeting, the Town Executive Assistant will ask all incumbents whose terms are expiring if they wish to continue serving on the board. The list of people continuing in their current positions is reviewed by the Board of Selectmen.
Incumbents who want to continue are approved by the Board of Selectmen without discussion if no other candidates put themselves forward. Putting yourself forward doesn’t guarantee that you will replace an incumbent, but it makes sure that you will be considered for the position. Turnover in committees is healthy for the town. It ensures that committees will benefit from fresh thinking and new perspectives and not be mired in “doing things in a certain way just because that’s the way that they have always been done.”
Summary of Resources
A resource checklist for running for office or volunteering for a position includes:
- Town Clerk
- Town Administrator
- Massachusetts Conflict of Interest Law
- Current members on the board or committee for which election is sought. All current members are listed on the Town web site at http://harvard.ma.us/Pages/HarvardMA_Webdocs/boards
- Additional sections of the League of Women Voters website
- The Massachusetts Municipal Association