Boards and commissions

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By Merilee Dannemann

“There is no such thing as a Republican or Democratic audiologist. There are just professional audiologists.”  

This comment was made in December 2002 by an audiologist of my acquaintance, after he received a letter informing him that he was being booted off the New Mexico audiology board. My friend was a very nice fellow, a responsible professional and, I’m sure, a diligent member of this board.

When Bill Richardson was elected governor, you may remember, there was widespread turnover on many state boards and commissions. Which leaves the next governor with an interesting problem.

Boards and commissions are sprinkled through state government. Some boards have a great deal of responsibility, while others are mostly advisory. Their duties are based on specific statutes, rules and procedures, which may be complex and challenging to learn. A board may have the power to revoke a professional or trade license — a power not used often, but utterly serious when someone’s professional future is at stake.

Boards typically have “staggered terms.” Board members begin their service in alternate years, so turnover will be gradual, boards can function without a break and new members can learn from experienced members.

Lots of terms came to an abrupt end in December 2002.  

Here is one consequence of that action. In 2003, so I heard, a certain health-related board could not organize itself until September. Members of that profession who moved here from another state had to wait months to get a license, because the board was not legally capable of approving those licenses.

On many boards, new, staggered terms were established for the members who started in 2003. So a question for our next governor will be whether she will leave board members in place to serve out their current terms and maintain continuity  — or not. If the governor perceives all the board members as nothing but Richardson loyalists with no other value, she might choose to purge the boards again.

Which, to put it simply, will lead to a new round of confusion and set a pattern for the next governor to do the same thing.  

This is not necessarily an easier decision for prospective governor Denish than for prospective governor Martinez. The two nominees may have different reasons to reach a decision, but each of them may wish to start fresh.

Getting appointed to a board or commission may be an honor but does not necessarily transform the appointee into a power broker  — and can be a lot of hard work. Board members get paid only per diem and mileage. For a highly paid professional or business person, that is scant compensation. Some boards schedule meetings around the state and that means extra time for travel and overnight stays — again, not much fun and barely compensated.

Almost eight years have gone by since the Richardson appointees took over. Doubtless, many of those appointees have served honorably and a few have probably been duds. There has been some turnover as members decided one term was enough for them. Perhaps political mischief has been done, in some narrow circle of influence, unnoticed by the general public — not necessarily any more or less than in any administration. So the best option may well vary from board to board.  

It will be up to us citizens, focusing on the subject areas we know something about, to be ready to share our knowledge with the incoming governor when the time comes.

Merilee Dannemann is a syndicated columnist.

New Mexico News Service 2010