By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
When President Lincoln stood in Gettysburg and said our government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” he probably didn’t realize we’d still be holding onto his words today. Nor could he have imagined all the ways we put the “by the people” part into action now. Whether you tweet, email or take part in a Facebook live Town Hall, the options for ways to tell your government what you want continue to grow. But there’s an old-fashioned opportunity that – despite being easy and highly effective – many overlook: joining a local Board or Commission. So consider this my invitation to you, the people: consider joining one of our boards, commissions, working groups, or task forces.
Boards and Commissions may sound like secret clubs that meet in dusty, old halls to discuss arcane rules. But actually, they are just groups of motivated residents and business leaders who put in a few hours per month to make vital decisions and give useful advice to city officials and staff. The Traffic Commission, for example, recently approved lowering the citywide speed limit to 25 miles per hour – a decision that is sure to save lives.
Whether your interests and skills lie in environmental conservation, fair housing, human rights, or more, we likely have a commission, board, or working group that could be the right place for you. Among them, our Bicycle Committee has helped drive the changes that are making cycling safer and easier in Somerville. The Recreation Commission helps organize popular All Star Games and summer programs. Our Disabilities Commission advises on accessibility needs and hosts an annual celebration. The Arts Council Board brainstorms with our Arts Council staff to plan some of the region’s most popular cultural programs and events.
Most commission members serve for a term of one to three years, but for shorter-term needs, we also establish working groups and task forces that serve, in a way, as temporary think tanks. In recent years, these groups have done deep dives into our affordable housing needs, municipal composting, sports field policies, and more. They bring together experts, advocates, and concerned residents in our community to research, problem solve, discuss, innovate, and recommend. They get things done. For one, we’re currently pursuing a real estate transfer tax to support affordable housing as a direct outcome of the Sustainable Neighborhoods Advisory Group.
In short, these advisory bodies harness the talents of our residents to better our community. Together their members have had a direct – and long-lasting – impact, and there is plenty more work to do. Somerville is on the precipice of a lot of exciting changes with the Green Line underway, the new Somerville High School moving forward, improved infrastructure work happening, the planning and implementation of many different neighborhood plans, working toward our commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, and much more.
We want our residents involved every step of the way on these projects and the many others taking place across the city. I encourage you to challenge yourself to become even more involved. Sign up for the City’s newsletter at somervillema.gov/newsletter to be sure to be notified when positions on our Boards, Commissions, and advisory groups open up. Or check somervillema.gov/boardopenings occasionally for announcements. (Save the address. There are no current openings, but they come up regularly.) When you see something that piques your interest, please apply. If we want to continue to make Somerville a great place to live, work, raise a family, and grow old – a place for all – then we need you to help us live up to the standard of “by the people”.
For more information about openings on Somerville boards, commissions and advisory groups, please visit www.somervillema.gov/boardopenings.