Boards and Commissions

Public boards and commissions are an opportunity for citizens to serve their community.

Board and commission members may be appointed by a local executive body such as a mayor or select board, or elected by fellow residents during municipal elections.

If you are interested in serving your community on a board or commission, determine which issues you care about and wish to devote your time. Research the board or commission, find out what the qualifications of the current members are, attend a public meeting or event, and reach out to current members about their experiences on the board. Once you've made a decision, contact your town clerk or administrator to find out what the application process entails or whether you need to "pull papers", i.e. gather signatures in order to run for the position in your town or city's election.

Community Preservation Committee

Each community that adopts the Community Preservation Act is required to establish a Community Preservation Committee (CPC) to administer the program. 

  • At least five members and up to four at-large members.

  • There are five required members of a CPC - one voting member from each of the following municipal committees (CPC, nd):

    • Conservation Commission (created by Section 8C of Chapter 40)

    • Planning Board (created by Section 81a of Chapter 41)

    • Historical Commission (created by Section 8D of Chapter 40)

    • Housing Authority (created by Section 3 of Chapter 121B)

    • Board of Park/ Open Space Commissioners (created by Section 2 of Chapter 45)

CPC responsibilities include: ​

  • Developing a community preservation plan 

  • Reviewing and recommending CPA projects such as preservation of open space and historic sites, creating affordable housing, and developing outdoor recreational facilities 

  • Keep records and report on the CPA budget 

Source: Community Preservation Committees

Conservation Commission

The Conservation Committee protects the community’s natural resources, administers the MA Wetlands Protection Act, and administers the Town’s wetland protection bylaw. They host public hearings for Notices of Intent, Requests for Determination, and stewardship issues. The Conservation Commission charges permit fees.

  • Between three and seven members

  • Appointed by select board, town administrator, or mayor

  • Three-year staggered terms

 

Source: Conservation Commissions in Massachusetts

Cultural Council or Commission

Through the Local Cultural Council Program, the Mass Cultural Council distributes funds to local and regional cultural councils (LCCs) throughout the state. These funds are allocated to the MCC by the state legislature through the annual state appropriation process.

 

LCCs, in turn, "regrant" funds to individuals and organizations in their communities.

  • At least five members and no more than twenty-two members

  • Appointed by select board, town administrator, or mayor

  • Three-year staggered terms

Source: The Municipal Guide to Local Cultural Councils: A Primer for Local Government Officials

Disability Commission

Commissions on Disability are adopted by vote in Town Meetings or City Councils to promote the inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities in the activities, services, and employment opportunities in each community.

  • Five to thirteen members

  • Appointed by select board, town administrator, or mayor

  • Three-year staggered terms

  • a majority of members should be persons with disabilities.

Source: Establish a Commission on Disability in your city or town

Economic Development Commission

Economic Development Commissions are adopted by town or city charter for the purpose of enhancing a municipality’s economy through research into current economic and market conditions, coordinating opportunities to expand economic development, and development of planned economic growth

 

  • Not less than five nor more than fifteen members

  • Appointed by the select board, town manager, or mayor

  • Five-year staggered terms

Finance Committee

Towns with a property valuation of $1 million or more must establish a finance committee (either by charter or bylaw). The finance committee’s primary responsibility is to make recommendations on all financial matters, including the budget, to town meeting.

 

  • Appointed by town moderator, select board, or elected

  • Between five and nine members

  • Majority of committees have three-year staggered terms

 

Source: Association of Town Finance Committees. (2017). Finance Committee Handbook [Ebook]. 

Historical Commission

Historical commissions are established “for the preservation, protection, and development of the historical or archeological assets of such city or town” (M.G.L. ch.40 §8D). They are responsible for community-wide historic preservation planning and may seek to change local bylaws to protect historic areas.

 

  • Not less than three and no more than seven members

  • Appointed by select board, town manager, or mayor

  • Three-year staggered terms

 

Sources:

Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 40, § 8D (2021).

Local Historical Commissions in Massachusetts: A Summary Sheet for New Commission Members

Housing Authority

The Housing Authority (HA) is run by a Board of Commissioners and is the principal housing advocate within its community. The HA is responsible for planning and implementing a balanced housing program. In addition to planning, the board is responsible for determining the needs of tenants.

 

  • Five members - four elected at-large in towns or appointed by the mayor in cities, and one appointed by the Governor.

  • Lengths of terms vary dependent upon factors listed is Mass General Law 121B, Section 5.

Source: 

Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development’s Training Manual for Local Housing Authority Board Members, 2014

Open Space Committee

The Open Space Committee (OSC) is a volunteer committee appointed by the Select Board or mayor. The primary purpose of the Open Space Committee (OSC) is to promote the preservation of land in a municipality as Open Space. The OSC may make recommendations to the select board or mayor regarding parcels of land that become available to the municipality under Chapters 61, 61A, or 61B. In addition, the OSC may make recommendations to the select board or mayor regarding bylaws and zoning as they relate to open space.

  • Seven members and two alternates

  • Appointed by select board, town manager, or mayor

Planning Board

The Planning Board reviews submitted plans for the development of land for residential, commercial, and other uses. The Board is also responsible for guiding the process of zoning amendments and updating a municipality's Master Plan.

  • Five, seven, or nine members

  • Three- to five-year staggered terms

  • Elected or appointed. As of 2014, 246 communities elect their planning board members, 11 use a hybrid process, and the remainder are appointed by other means (town manager, select board, or mayor) (ToN, 2014). 

  • Associated members allowed for special permits - designated by chair

Sources: Roles & Responsibilities of Planning & Zoning Boards - Part I and Massachusetts Planning Boards by Town

Select Board

The selectmen serve as a town's chief executive body. They have overall responsibility for the general operations of town government. They are usually the major non-school appointing authority for a town and are authorized to enter contracts on behalf of the municipality.

  • Three to five elected select board members

  • Three-year staggered terms

Source: Handbook for Massachusetts Selectmen

School Committee

The school committee in each city, town, or regional school district has the power to select and to terminate the superintendent, is responsible for reviewing and approving budgets for public education in the district, and establishing educational goals and policies for the schools in the district that are consistent with statewide goals and standards established by the board of education.

 

  • School committee size varies from town to town

  • Typically, between five and fifteen members

  • In some cases, the superintendent serves on the board as a non-voting member

  • The mayor serves as chairperson in cities

 

Sources:

Advisory on School Governance - Education Laws and Regulations

Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 71, § 37 (2021)

School Board – Ballotpedia

Zoning Board of Appeals

The Zoning Board of Appeals hears and decides petitions for appeals of zoning orders and decisions made by the Building Commissioner, variances with respect to land or structure, special permits for certain projects as allowed for in the Zoning By-Laws, and comprehensive permits under Chapter 40b.

  • Three or five members

  • Typically appointed

  • Associate members allowed

Sources: Roles & Responsibilities of Planning & Zoning Boards - Part I

Utility Commission

There are forty-one municipal light plants in Massachusetts that serve all or part of fifty communities in Massachusetts. These municipal light plants (MLP) are owned by municipal governments and deliver 13% of the electricity in the state.

 

MLPs are governed by an elected board of commissioners who meet once a month to review budgets, systems status and maintenance, review issues and plans, vote on proposals and policies, and decide what kind of power residents buy (portfolio).

 

  • Typically consist of three to five elected members

  • In some towns select board, manager, or mayor appoint members

  • Three to five year staggered terms

 

Sources: