You're 28 years old, you have a bachelor's degree in government from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in public relations from American University. You've interned at the U.S. House of Representatives and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and most recently you managed the successful reelection campaign of a Maryland state senator. How do you further satisfy your appetite for public service?
If you're like Robert F. Rossomondo, and if you live in Montgomery County, you get yourself appointed to the Sign Review Board, a three-member body that deliberates the thorny questions of where to allow new billboards in the county. "I've always been interested in public service," Rossomondo explained.
In Montgomery, there is no shortage of civic-minded citizens to serve on the scores of panels reviewing everything from animal policy to the needs of the newly unemployed.
Many, like Rossomondo, are Democratic Party campaign workers. Many others are well-educated federal employes who cannot participate in partisan politics. Others are retirees.
There is no shortage either of boards for these citizens to sit on, in a county known fondly by its critics for its "paralysis by analysis." At last count, there were a total of 65 such panels in operation.
Rossomondo recently discovered his job has some drawbacks. It doesn't pay, and the board sometimes launches into a breakneck pace of once-a-week meetings when there is an unusual flood of applications.
Moreover, he had to endure rigorous grilling by the County Council before receiving the appointment. ("I was asked my opinion on movable, mobile signs," he remembers.)
And he got more than his share of jokes. "Some of my friends, when I told them I was appointed to the Sign Review Board, kind of snickered and said, 'What is that?' " Rossomondo said.
Task forces allow elected officials to solicit expert advice, while they at the same time insulate politicians from some tough decisions, like where to put a landfill or which firm to award a cable contract. When in doubt, the saying goes, tell constituents that you were only following the advice of your task force.
Also, the various boards, committees and commissions are the closest thing Montgomery County has to old-fashioned, big-city patronage. Thus, filling the 200 nonpaying jobs often generates political controversy, particularly in Montgomery where a tough civil service system restricts the county executive to making only a handful of noncivil service appointments to real government jobs that pay up to $67,000..
Attorney Gilbert B. Lessenco, chairman of County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist's reelection campaign, says, "When people have worked in your campaign, you know what their strengths are. Naturally, the kind of people Charlie Gilchrist will turn to are campaign aide Barbara Goldman for charter review work, or Pepco vice president Jim Culp for economic development."
There is no official master list of all the various county boards, commissions, committees, task forces, advisory groups, and blue-ribbon panels. Some are appointed by the executive branch, others by the County Council, and still others by both.
On the council side, staff aide Margaret Knill lists a dozen boards and committees, including the C & O Canal National Historic Park Committee, the Committee to Study the More Efficient Use of Existing Housing Stock, the Martin Luther King Commemorative Committee, the Board of Trustees Nominating Committee (to submit names to the governor of potential Montgomery College trustees), and the Sensitivity Awareness Symposium Task Force.
In addition to those, the council last Tuesday created a new Task Force on the Use of Toxic and Hazardous Substances, and this week is scheduled to appoint members to a new Inter-Agency Computer Committee.
A Task Force on the Needs of the Newly Unemployed recently submitted its report, and was ready to disband until asked to come back with more recommendations.
In the executive branch, special assistant Thomas B. Stone handles appointments for County Executive Gilchrist. Stone estimates there are about 52 standing boards, committees and commissions, plus a Public Participation task force and an Economic Advisory Council.
Some are relatively well-known and powerful panels, like the Commission on Landlord-Tenant Affairs, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the Revenue Authority and the Human Relations Commission.
Others are less well known, like the Animal Matters Hearing Board.
That doesn't include some recently disbanded task forces that handed in their reports and folded their tents--like the Arson Task Force and the Task Force on Liquor Philosophy.
Stone said that at last count, Gilchrist made about 200 appointments each year to all the various panels. One year, said Stone, the executive received more than 1,400 applications for seats on the various boards.
After Gilchrist's reelection last November, his campaign chairman, Lessenco, recalls receiving dozens of calls from persons wanting to be appointed to various obscure panels.
"I was absolutely mind-boggled by the number of people calling about doing volunteer work," he said. "I kept reminding them, 'That's a free nonpaying position.' There's got to be psychic rewards, in large part."
Many applicants for the jobs have a special interest in the subject matter.
For example, last Tuesday the council confirmed Dr. Clarence Herbert, a retired federal government worker, to the Range Approval Committee, a seven-member panel created in 1972 to inspect the sites for potential target ranges in the county.
Herbert has been a member of the sporting and environmental club, the Izaak Walton League of America, a sporting and environmental club, since 1955, serving as a rifle range officer and chairman of the group's Hunter Safety Committee.
For Herbert, appointment to the Range Approval Board was a natural extension of his sports activities. "I'm very anxious to promote firearms safety," he said. "I thought this would fit in well with my other volunteer activities."
Herbert was approved after the council interviewed him as part of a new policy of interviewing every applicant even for routine or obscure posts.
"This council interviewed candidates for the Range Approval Board," sighed Gilchrist aide Stone, "and they the board members haven't approved a range in years!"