City appointments challenging

WESTFIELD – Members of the City Council’s Personnel Action Committee reached an agreement with Mayor Daniel M. Knapik to provide additional information about candidates for appointment to boards and commissions.
The issue was raised by At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty who submitted motions, which he withdrew after the mayoral agreement, seeking more candidate information as required under city charter.
Specifically Flaherty requested information indicating that a candidate for a specific board has the background, education, experience, or expertise, that will enable them to perform duties related to the board or commission. Flaherty also argued that the council, through the PAC, has the right to reject appointees who fail to meet that criterion.
Knapik said the hardest part of filling vacancies is getting citizens to volunteer to serve on those boards and commissions.
It’s hard constantly trying to fill seats,” Knapik said. “There are vacancies on the Flood Control Commission, Cultural Council, Historical Commission. It’s harder finding people willing to volunteer.”
“I try when I can to find a person with expertise,” Knapik said. “We try to have at least one member of the Police Commission with a law enforcement background. The same with the Fire Commission and the Conservation Commission. We try to have at least one attorney on the Zoning Board of Appeals.”
The Airport Commission is required to have a licensed pilot, while the Health Board is required to have a doctor.
The City Council approved two candidates at its Jan. 17 session, appointing Edward Diaz of Pochassic Road to the License Commission and Dr. James W. Phillips of Loomis Ridge to the Conservations Commission. Phillips had been serving as chairman of the Flood Control Commission until his appointment Thursday.
“Ed has law enforcement experience, serving as a corrections officer and a deputy sheriff, which is something that will help with the mission of the License Commission, while Jim has decades of experience in conservation,” Knapik said. “So in these two cases we put the round peg in the round hole.”
“People see some of these boards as being confrontational, such as the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, where members of those boards get sued,” Knapik said. “People don’t want that.”
Planning Board appointments are further complicated by ward representation, where each of the six wards is represented by a member of the board.
“The litmus test for perspective Planning Board members is do you have the stomach, if a great project is proposed in your ward, to stand against your neighbors who oppose that project,” Knapik said.
Knapik said that he considers citizens who can make a informed decision as qualified for many of the boards and commissions.
“My job as mayor is to give the boards and commissions missions that spark the passion of members,” Knapik said. “Nothing is more motivational than doing something meaningful.
Knapik said the boards and commissions are the front line of city infrastructure and services, initiating discussion that eventually occurs in the City Council Chambers.
“I rely on the commissions to bring problems to my attention, identifying problems, then presenting that information to the City Council is my job, so I have to give the boards and commissions the guidance and resources to do that,” Knapik said. “If I don’t encourage boards and commission to bring information forward, how will the City Council know what the problems are, how to set priorities, with limited resources, to resolve that problem.”

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