Boards and Commissions on Tap: Recap

Feb 24, 2016

On Monday, HYPE partnered with YES (Young Energetic Solutions) to host Boards and Commissions on Tap, a panel discussion offering information on how to get involved in shaping your community by joining a local town Board or Commission. Attendees also had the chance to hear from Mayor Luke Bronin of Hartford, and Mayor Dan Drew of Middletown, as well as speak with town representatives from various boards and commissions in the Metro Hartford region.

The event kicked off with opening remarks from Diana Deng, Co-Chair of YES, a statewide initiative seeking to empower young people to create a vibrant Connecticut. By creating a statewide YES network, they aim to give young people the tools they need to transform their communities and the state into a place where young professionals want to live, work, and play, and to give young people a voice in shaping their communities through civic engagement. HYPE Deputy Director Kim Lundy then spoke about HYPE and the Civic Engagement Committee, as well as the mission of the committee to create opportunities for young people to become more civically engaged. Christine Schilke, Co-Chair of Yes, then introduced Mayor Luke Bronin and Mayor Dan Drew.

Mayor Bronin began by highlighting the importance of filling open spots on boards and commissions as a top priority. He encouraged young professionals to get involved on any level, whether it be a board or commission, a political committee, or a neighborhood NRZ. Mayor Bronin’s goal is to position Hartford as the undisputed center of this region, and reminded the audience that everyone has a role to play, even if it’s simply spreading the word about all of the great opportunities and growth in Hartford.

Following Mayor Bronin was Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, who reiterated the point that there are so many ways to get involved, from the grassroots level up. Mayor Drew highlighted the modern forms of journalism, such as blogs and social media platforms, as great ways to get young professionals involved by helping to educate others about issues or topics relative to the region. He then told attendees his personal journey to public service, beginning when he was a teenager working as a lifeguard and EMT, and realized he had a passion for helping others and making a difference in their lives. He reminded attendees that they each have the ability to make a difference in their community, in any area they are passionate about.

 Moderator and member of the YES Statewide Steering Committee Randal Davis then introduced the panelist, giving each a chance to tell their personal story of how they became involved, as well as speak to some of the barriers that prevent involvement of young professionals. Jonathan Cabral, member of the Hartford Parks & Recs Advisory Commission, shared his experience of almost being arrested for playing soccer in Bushnell Park, leading him to join the Commission to prevent similar occurrences from happening again. His involvement helped to alter the rules so that pick-up games can be played in Bushnell Park without a permit. Nick Pinto, Vice Chair of HYPE’s Civic Engagement Committee, discussed how he became involved with HYPE and the committee. Always having an interest in civics, Nick was looking for a way to get more involved in Hartford and the region. Nick mentioned a lack of information being one barrier to young professionals becoming more civically engaged in their communities.

Jonathan Slifka, the Governor's Liaison to the Disability Community in West Hartford, suggested that another barrier to young people getting involved is the belief that one person can truly make a difference. There is a lack of understanding as to how each and every person on a board or commission can impact the greater community through their service. Windsor Deputy Mayor and Town Council member Judy Terranova, shared similar sentiments, but encouraged attendees to ask themselves if you don’t get involved, who will? This was her thought processes when first becoming involved in civics, and she became more involved as time went on. She also spoke about the recent changes Windsor has made to their process of joining a town board or commission. Previously, an individual was required to be a member of one of the town committees, either Democrat or Republican, to be considered for a spot, however this requirement tuned many residents off. A new Personnel Committees can now nominate someone to a vacant spot on a board or commission, and they have also begun to post these open spots on the town website. 

Moderator Davis asked the panel for their suggestions on better informing young people about the opportunity to join town boards and commissions. Cabral spoke about a “meet and great” event he had attended around the same time he had joined the Parks and Rec Advisory Commission. This event was open to the public and had representatives from each of the city of Hartford’s boards and commissions, who provided information to attendees. He suggested more of these types of events, as well as encouraging residents to attend NRZ meetings as ways to get greater participation. The other panelists echoed these suggestions, with all agreeing that attending a meeting, which are open to the public, as the best way to get information regarding that particular committee or board.

Questions were then taken from the audience members, the first regarding how to connect your professional interests to a specific board or commission. The panelist all agreed that the reasoning behind joining a commission or board does not have to be related to professional work, but recommended it is something you are passionate about. A question regarding length of term and knowledge of vacancies was asked, and both really depend on the town, and the specific board or commission. Many towns, such as Windsor, publish their vacancies on their town website, while other towns may prefer you reach out directly to a representative for more information. Lastly, a question was asked about the time commitment. Again, this is dependent on the specific board or commission, although most will meet once a month. For some, the commitment is simply attending the meetings, while other might have work outside of those meetings that must be accomplished. Cabral suggested speaking with a representative of the board or commission you are looking to join, as his particular commission was flexible with his schedule while in graduate school. Slifka commented that it can also depend on you personally, how invested you are, and how much of a difference you are trying to make. After the panel discussion, attendees were able to meet with various representatives from local town boards and commissions, as well as the panelists, to get more information on how to join.

Thank you to Mayor Bronin, Mayor Drew, our fabulous panelist, and all of the town representatives for sharing their time and stories with attendees. A special thank you to City Steam for hosting the event. Check out our Facebook for more photos!

Katie Kervick is a member of HYPE's Civic Engagement Committee and works at The Phoenix Companies.


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