Often overlooked but a central component of mayoral power, the city’s shadow government of about 170 boards and commissions is Gray’s responsibility as far as making most of the appointments.
Such appointments extend a mayor’s reach deep into city bureaucracy, but Gray is finding it difficult to find candidates willing to serve on bodies that help advise and oversee policies ranging from barbershop standards to the development of green buildings and green jobs.
With the District’s news media and government watchdogs scrutinizing Gray’s hires after a spate of ethical controversies at city hall, the mayor said some residents are no longer responding to calls for public service.
“We get people that say, ‘I don’t want to go through all that,’ ” he said.
The District is known for progressive government and civic engagement, and the D.C. Council has long turned to new boards and commissions to help solve problems or offer advice.
Some of the boards and commissions, such as the zoning and alcohol control boards, hold enormous sway in shaping the quality of life of a rapidly changing city. But dozens of others have been created to address smaller issues or to provide advice, at times confusing even elected officials about the boards’ roles.
“Some of these boards just aren’t relevant,” said council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who leads the committee that oversees boards and commissions.
‘We’ve been too slow’
As of late August, there were 811 vacancies, although a few have been filled and new ones made since then, according to a Washington Post review of publicly available data. There was at least one vacancy on at least two-thirds of those bodies. Some, including the Commission on Women and the Mayor’s Commission on Food and Nutrition, are not functioning because all of the seats are vacant.
“We’ve been too slow on a number of things,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who added that she has tried to pressure Gray to fill vacancies sooner. “Some of them are really important . . . and we have to keep these things operating.”
As he explores whether some boards or commissioners should be eliminated, Gray said his first focus will be filling seats on boards that have “a statutory requirement to make decisions.”
The challenges facing Gray are hardly new because of the vast number of boards and commissions the council has authorized over the years. With only 18 boards or commissions offering salaries or stipends to members, mayors have struggled for decades to persuade residents to volunteer their time to serve.