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WHAT OTHERS SAY: With 1,200 open seats on state boards and commission, action is needed

Friday, February 7, 2014 | 1:54 p.m. CST

Volunteer boards and commissions are a tremendous asset to government and, by extension, taxpayers.

At the state level, the appointments process is a massive task, which falls largely to the governor.

Some lawmakers believe Gov. Jay Nixon isn’t moving quickly enough on appointments, and they have proposed legislation to require more timely action.

Legislation advanced by the Senate would permit appointees to state boards and commissions to serve only 60 days beyond the end of the appointed term. The seat then would be vacant until an appointment or re-appointment has been made by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

Consider, first, the magnitude of the job. Missouri has more than 200 boards and commissions. The number of members varies among boards and commissions. In addition, some require a specific breakdown of Republicans and Democrats, as well as professional expertise.

Legislators who perceive a problem, however, have a reasonable argument. An examination of a state website lists more than 1,200 seats as vacant or filled with an appointee serving beyond an expired term.

The authors of the Missouri Constitution apparently envisioned situations when filling vacancies might not be a gubernatorial priority; the document reads: “appointees shall serve until their successors are duly elected or appointed and qualified,” with qualified generally understood as confirmed by the Senate.

A question arises about whether the proposed legislation is partisan, since it largely is prompted by GOP legislators and affects the office now held by a Democrat. Republican State Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield rejects that notion. “This has been a problem for some time,” he said.

We agree it has been a problem, but a question also arises about whether the proposed solution is constitutional.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, believes it passes constitutional muster. “The statute already makes it clear that there is a term for the appointment. We’re not saying that a person can’t continue to serve. We’re just saying that a person has to be reappointed or somebody new has to be appointed in a reasonable time.”

Nixon said the problem is less about finding people willing to serve and more about “the legislature adding to the number of appointees governors have to appoint.”

The establishment of new boards and commissions, and the concern that vacancies and expired terms be filled in a timely manner, are evidence that elected officials consider them an asset to government.

If the issue is not a partisan one, perhaps the answer is to provide the office of governor with the staff and resources to carry out promptly the constitutional, and massive, obligation.

If the office is unable or unwilling to perform, a mandatory time limit is justifiable.

Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission.


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