Want to serve on a public board? Pick your poison

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The state Transportation Commission has a major impact on how highway funds are dispersed.

Thinking of applying for a position on one of the many volunteer-staffed boards and commissions that advise (and, in some cases, direct) state and local governments? Interested in using your particular expertise to make government function more effectively?

Or maybe you’re unhappy with the actions of a particular board, and would like to be part of a reform-minded group.

Take your time — there’s no shortage of boards and commissions.

Gov. John Hickenlooper directly appoints members of several hundred boards and commissions, listed alphabetically on the governor’s website. Some are powerful, many require specialized knowledge and/or experience, and some appear to be charmingly irrelevant.

It’s unlikely that someone without a background in accounting would bother to apply to the State Board of Accountancy, or that a vegan would want to join the board of the Colorado Beef Council. You’d best be a chiropractor if interested in a position on the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, or a banker if applying for the Colorado Banking Board.

Yet lack of experience in the largely vanished passenger railroad business might not disqualify an applicant from membership on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission.

Never heard of it? According to the organization’s website, “The states of New Mexico and Colorado joined together and purchased the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in 1970. In 1977, the bi-state agency, Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission, was created to act on behalf of the two states in overseeing the operation of the C&TSRR. The Commission is composed of four members, two from each state, appointed by their respective state governor.”

Different opportunities

Most boards are advisory, or tasked with setting and maintaining licensing requirements for specific professions, or narrowly focused on particular functions of government.

The latter include powerful, but relatively obscure, boards such as the Mined Land Reclamation Board, Pinnacol Assurance (chartered by the state in 1915 to provide workers compensation insurance) and the Historic Preservation Review Board.

But of all the hundreds of opportunities to serve, a few stand out. If you want the opportunity to exercise real power, and have lasting impact upon the Pikes Peak region, here’s the list of lists. Be warned: these positions aren’t for neophytes. You’d need a powerful resume and broad experience in public policy to make the cut.

Public Utilities Commission. The three-person commission board “… has full economic and quality of service regulatory authority over intrastate telecommunication services; and investor-owned electric, gas and water utilities, as well as partial regulatory control over municipal utilities and electric associations.” It’s the rate-setting body for all investor-owned utilities in Colorado. If CSU’s electrical generation division is sold to a private operator, the PUC would suddenly become an even more important player in Colorado Springs.

Colorado Transportation Commission. This is the biggest dog of all. The Transportation Commission isn’t an advisory body — it controls the purse. Eleven commissioners are responsible for allocating state transportation funds throughout Colorado. Commissioners represent and must reside in specific geographical areas. We’re part of District 9, which includes El Paso, Fremont, Park and Teller counties.

Urban Strategies CEO Les Gruen has represented District 9 since 2007.

“I had no idea what a desired commission it was when I applied,” said Gruen. “CSLI (Colorado Springs Leadership Institute) suggested that I apply for one of the state boards, and I narrowed it down to six. So when I was interviewed by the governor’s office, they asked me why I was interested in the Transportation Commission. I told them that I really wasn’t — it was my last choice of the six.”

Gruen’s disinterest might have worked in his favor. Governors have historically appointed individuals who not only can represent their districts, but work cooperatively with their peers to further the state’s overall transportation needs.

Gruen’s present term will expire in 2015, and it’s unlikely that he’ll serve another.

“I know that the governor generally feels that no one should serve more than two terms on major boards,” he said, “so there will likely be a vacancy.”

Colorado State Land Board. This five-person citizen group consists of members representing education, agriculture, local government and natural resources, plus one citizen-at-large. The board was established in 1876 to manage more than 3 million acres of land and 4 million acres of mineral rights that the federal government gave to Colorado to generate revenue for public education and some state institutions. By virtue of these holdings, the Land Board is, after the federal government, the largest landowner in Colorado.

Part-time Colorado Springs resident Buck Blessing holds the citizen-at-large slot. His term will expire in 2013.

Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund Board (GOCO). Funded by profits from the sale of state-operated gambling products, the GOCO Trust Fund will receive about $60 million this year. Funds are used to “build trails, help open recreation facilities, preserve ranchlands and view corridors, improve and expand river quality and access, and conserve wildlife habitat.” The 17-person board includes two representatives from each congressional district. Heather Carroll and Dave Palenchar currently represent the fifth district. Carroll is the director and sole employee of the J. Henry Edmondson Foundation, while Palenchar is COO of El Pomar Foundation. The two organizations are located at the same address in Colorado Springs.

Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission. This five-member regulatory body “…promulgates all rules and regulations concerning limited gaming, annually establishes the tax rate, and has final authority over all licenses issued by the Division and Commission.” The commission ran afoul of Gov. Hickenlooper last year when its members voted to lower casino tax rates by 5 percent. Hickenlooper responded by firing all five members. Their replacements, including Springs resident Chuck Murphy, promptly reinstated the former tax rate.

Closer to home

If driving to Denver for meetings doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of opportunities to serve in Colorado Springs. You may not have the statewide clout of Les Gruen or Chuck Murphy, but you can still have an impact.

Colorado Springs Planning Commission. This nine-member commission is “… appointed by City Council to review various development applications and proposals. Some applications are decided at this level while others proceed onto City Council for final approval.” Enjoy meetings that stretch on for hours and hours? Want to listen to droning, technical presentations? The Planning Commission is for you! Historically, it has been a stepping stone to city elected office. Former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace started her career in city government there, as did current councilmember Val Snider. If you’re interested in land use it’s a worthwhile board — otherwise, you might want to look elsewhere.

Current commission member Robert Shonkwiler enjoys serving on the commission.

“I spent 35 years in the development business in Boulder,” said Shonkwiler, “so I thought that I was very well qualified for the position.” Shonkwiler also serves on the Urban Renewal Authority board, whose members are appointed by Mayor Steve Bach.

Why two time-consuming boards?

“When the Mayor asks you to apply,” Shonkwiler said, “it’s hard to say no.”

Liquor and Beer Licensing Board. The Liquor Board has real power. It grants all local liquor licenses, and can suspend or revoke them as well. Much of its business has to do with routine applications to transfer licenses, expand or change locations, and license renewals. But when a major bar or club is the subject of a suspension or revocation hearing, scores of jobs and millions of dollars may be at stake.

Pikes Peak Library District Board. This seven-member board has full responsibility for the library district, which is funded through a designated property tax. Board members can serve up to two five-year terms, and are jointly appointed by the county commissioners and the City Council. Terms are staggered, so at least one or two come open every year.

It’s easy enough to start the process. Just go to colorado.gov or springsgov.com and follow the links to “boards and commissions.”

Your chances may be better than you think.

Earlier this year, Gov. Hickenlooper was asked why so few residents of El Paso County had been appointed to state boards and commissions.

His answer: “Because very few applied.”

State boards

The powerhouses

Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission

Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund

State Board of Land Commissioners

Parks and Wildlife Commission

Pinnacol Assurance

Public Utilities Commission

Real Estate Commission

Transportation Commission

Public Employees Retirement Benefit Plans (PERA).

Narrowly focused but powerful

Boards of Trustees of Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines, Mesa State College, Fort Lewis College, Metropolitan State College of Denver, University of Northern Colorado, and Western State College

Colorado Water Conservation Board

State Fair Authority Board of Trustees

Major League Stadium Board of Trustees

State Board of Equalization

Economic Development Commission

Specialized knowledge required

Governor’s working group on the structure of Colorado’s human services system and the centralized call center for child abuse and neglect referrals

State Electrical Board

Boards that oversee professionals subject to state regulation, including social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, plumbers, podiatrists, landscape architects, motor vehicle dealers, nursing home administrators, etc.

Interesting and fun

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission

Poet Laureate of the State of Colorado

Historic Preservation Review Board

Venture capital authority

Wildlife Habitat Stamp Committee

One Response to Want to serve on a public board? Pick your poison

  1. Please correct the web address in the article. coloradogov.com should be colorado.gov

    Joy Garscadden
    September 7, 2012 at 10:04 am