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Advertise on the Tentacle

January 31, 2008

Step Up To The Plate…

Joan Marie Aquilino

Okay! This is a first for me, so bear with me and I'll do my best to keep you informed in a fair and balanced way. Yeah, right! Like I don't have any opinions. That will be the day. Those who know me are now spitting out coffee all over their computer. Those that don’t will learn soon I’m not shy about opinions.

I’m hoping this will get you off the fence and out to apply for the two openings on the Frederick County Planning Commission (FCPC) which are now being advertised.

I applied three times before receiving my first appointment in July ’98. When my first term was up, it took me until 15 minutes before the close for applications to try for it again. Didn’t think I had a prayer of reappointment. I was wrong. So don’t make any assumptions, just apply.

This board is advertising slightly earlier than normal. I have no issue with advertising or making those decisions early. The reason given by the commissioners for advertising so early was to enable those selected to be more prepared and ready to jump in when their term begins in July. It’s the applicant’s responsibility and – should they want the appointment – then preparation is on their shoulders, not the county’s to spoon feed them.

First, submit your resume and application to Winchester Hall. It's been to Joyce Grossnickle, in the commissioners’ office, as long as I can remember. What a gracious lady. I'm sure that any information you'd like to review, she’ll direct you to. Always check out the county website.

– Interviews were approximately one-half hour.

Okay, now the tough part, the interview. There are plenty of bars close after it's over, if needed.

– You are seated in front of all five commissioners, the county manager, and recording secretary. Picture them all in their underwear and keep a straight face. It works.

I always had an audience behind me; I'm assuming that still happens. Interviews were taped but not aired to the public until all applicants had been grilled; no advantages to the last over the first. That is unless someone in the audience is a spy.

– Several questions per commissioner on every aspect imaginable pertaining to the county, land uses and planning.

Study up! Don’t go in cold.

Most commissioners do their best to make it as comfortable as possible, but that is an impossible feat when you think about the odds.

How to prepare yourself? Read, watch, and ask questions, then do it some more. Attend meetings and participate for years prior. That doesn't mean that's what is required, just what I did for myself and my confidence level.

You're not learning while talking, so listening is very important.

My fellow planning commissioners have always had different views and opinions. Learn from them, the public, and applicants. Staff is always there to help. All of this is weighed into each and every decision made. Never go into a meeting thinking you know the outcome.

– Meetings are usually twice a month: 2nd (9:30 A.M.) and 3rd (2 P.M.) Wednesdays. Overruns happen on the 4th Wednesdays.

Public hearing begin normally at 7 P.M. on the 3rd Wednesday. I fully expect that to change and there will be a schedule of three meetings per month with an option of a 4th and all starting at 9:30 A.M. I hope this doesn’t change until the new members have a chance to weigh in.

This will double the normal schedule, and thus doubling the cost to taxpayers. Something to think about.

– You will receive $75 per scheduled meeting. Until that first check arrived, I had no idea we got paid. I thought it was a volunteer position.

– Meetings can last from a couple hours to – more often than not – eight plus hours. Prep time and site visits can reach up to 20 hours prior to each meeting.

– There are committees outside the Planning Commission that many of us have served on. Pay is not attached to those. These have fallen by the wayside in the past couple of years, but they are important and beneficial. I hope to see them brought back.

– Officers are elected yearly. I pushed to have these elections moved to September so that new members would have a chance to weigh in and get to know the other members, if even slightly. I may be in the minority on this and it could change back to elections being held at the first meeting in July at the same time new members could be joining the board. The board votes among themselves.

The secretary and chairperson are responsible for signing plans and LOU’s (Letters of Understanding).

The officers have no more authority than any other member but will help set agenda and run the meetings. The chairman should be a facilitator and keep the meetings moving forward. The vice chairman runs the meetings when the chairman is absent.

I've always thought the chairman should be someone who has been on the commission for awhile. My reasoning is that I found – as chairman – I never spoke as much, showing preference to other members first.

Up until this past year or two the chairperson always assigned new seating arrangements at the meeting following elections. It provided an opportunity to stir things up a bit and get to know everyone better. There is resistance to this now and it’s not a rule, so who knows what will happen. After a year in the same seat, I wanted a change.

– Attendance and preparation for all meetings is expected. Notify staff and the chairman of any conflict as early as possible, so they can ascertain that a quorum will be present.

It is a huge time commitment, but it’s well worth it.

All I can do now is beg everyone reading this to consider applying. No, forget considering, just do it! All the time, headaches, etc., will be worth the experiences you’ll receive... much more than you give.

This is your community, your home, your voice, your choice. It's difficult to listen to those who sit back and complain when they aren't willing to step up and participate.

Don’t wait, don’t over-think it! Apply now!!

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