EASTHAM — There’s nothing casual about the way this community seeks volunteers to serve on its boards and committees. In 1982, the home rule charter created a standing search committee to do the job.
Committee members keep an eye on openings, solicit potential members, review applications, interview candidates with a select board member and the chair of the relevant committee, and make a recommendation to the board. In other towns, much of this is done by the select board itself.
And while the search committee draws the line at dragging their fellow citizens into service, members take every opportunity to invite civic participation. They staff tables at Windmill Weekend and the Turnip Festival, or at the library when a popular event is held. They’ve helped the town clerk’s office make online applications a breeze. There’s a link from the town’s home page to volunteer information and an application form; you can even attach a resume.
Other towns aren’t quite as organized. On Wellfleet’s home page, you need to click on “Services A to Z” and then scroll down to find “Application for Town Boards and Committees.” That link leads to an application form and a list of vacancies that was updated last September. Under “News and Announcements,” Truro’s home page has an invitation to join the town manager screening committee but not about volunteering in general. If you click on the “Resources” button, you’ll find a link to vacancies and a downloadable application. Provincetown’s page has a button labeled “How Do I” that scrolls to an application link. That connects to an invitation to serve and links to a list of recently updated openings and an application.
In most towns, it’s up to the select board to interview candidates for committees. This, too, is different in Eastham. Select Board Chair Aimee Eckman, who once served on the search committee, recalled those earlier sessions.
“People would just come and sit before the board of selectmen and be interviewed on the spot,” she said. “That was awful. You’d have three or four people going for a spot and they would quiz them. It was like a job interview. You’re on camera, and you’re getting questions about your commitment to the town and your involvement. Then they’d give you the thumbs up or down. There was history between some of the people and the board members, so they wouldn’t get appointed. It just got really ugly.”
Thanks to a 2010 charter amendment, the search committee is involved from the outset. The chair reviews applications on file at town hall, contacts applicants to determine interest and whether they’ve attended meetings of the particular board (that’s a requirement), and sets up an interview panel that includes someone from the search committee, a select board member, and the chair of the committee with the opening. A written recommendation goes to the select board, which, according to the committee’s charge, “shall appoint the recommended candidate.”
“It works great,” though it can get a little cumbersome, Eckman said. “It’s just a nicer way to be interviewed for applicants.”
Still, recruitment remains an uphill battle. “Although we have successes in filling many positions, it is difficult to get people to commit,” Search Committee Chair Jessica Dill said by email. “People who are retired are often already overcommitted, and working people have other obligations.”
“It’s feast or famine,” Eckman said. “The recycling committee had a bunch of openings and now there are extra applicants. The board of health was lacking a few, and now it’s full.”
What the volunteers have in common, Dill wrote, is this: “People say they want to serve on a committee to give back to the town.”