‘Closest thing to eternity’ is government board

Daily Press, VA
July 10 2005

‘Closest thing to eternity’ is government board

Name an issue and the state likely has a board for it. It is shrewd
politics, mostly harmless, sometimes redundant, and virtually
eternal.

JOHN M.R. BULL

State government is chock-full of appointed boards-of-this,
commissions-for-that and advisory panels for the offbeat or plain
weird.

The governor’s commission on Armenian affairs. The advisory board on
athletic training. The aquaculture advisory board.

Then there are the potato boards. Yes, boards. There is one for Irish
potatoes and another for seed potatoes.

Many of these boards have been around for decades, about 325 of them
packed with roughly 4,000 political appointees.

They are a fine way to placate special interest groups with a show of
appearing to be doing something on an issue.

They are also a way for governors to reward supporters with a snazzy
appointment to an impressive-sounding state board, said Larry Sabato,
a veteran University of Virginia political scientist. You get your
name on an official appointment letter, embossed with the state seal
and signed by the governor – quite suitable for framing.

“These things are hanging on thousands of walls in Virginia,” Sabato
said. “Collectively, they are the prime way for governors to reward
the faithful.”

The boards are inexpensive, mostly innocuous and all-but
indestructible.

“The closest thing to eternity on Earth is a government board or
commission,” said Sabato. “You can’t abolish these things. You could
be accused of not caring. It’s more trouble than it’s worth to get
rid of these things.”

Appointees are unpaid, but the boards do cost a bit of money. Some
appointees get $50 per diems and are reimbursed for mileage and
board-related expenses.

The annual cost to the state couldn’t be determined. But in an annual
state budget of $30 billion the expenditures are peanuts, for which
there is, naturally, a state board.

Some boards do important work for various state departments in the
fields of higher education, health, agriculture, land conservation or
economic development.

Some seem to be redundant, such as the three boards that handle
various aspects of the nursing profession, despite the existence of a
state board of nursing and a board of medicine.

The Virginia Marine Products Board, the Virginia Marine Resources
Commission (not to be confused with the Virginia Resources Authority)
and the Aquaculture Advisory Board handle marine-related issues,
separate outfits that fall under the purview of different state
departments.

The first markets marine products. The second regulates ocean and bay
fishing, crabbing, clamming and the like. The third advises on
regulating farm-raised fish, clams and crabs.

“There’s no question there’s room for consolidation,” said Stephen
Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary
Washington. “Some boards are very important. They can serve a vitally
important role. Some don’t. This sounds like a good thing for a
lieutenant governor to sit down with legislative leaders in an
off-session year and figure this out.”

Some may have had a point when they started but no longer have a
discernable purpose.

The state’s advisory board on athletic training was created in 2000
under the board of medicine in the department of health professions
to help figure out the best way to license athletic trainers, said
board member Renee Cork of Williamsburg. Once that was done, the
board was kept alive to review the cases of anyone caught without a
license.

It’s never had a case, she added.

The state has a board for pretty much every major cash crop grown in
the state – corn, cotton, grains. Agriculture interests fund those
and other agriculture boards such as the cattle board, the sheep
board and the egg board.

The state has two boards for potatoes. It used to have a third potato
board, for sweet potatoes. It was disbanded in 2002 after bureaucrats
realized that few, if any, sweet potatoes are grown in Virginia
anymore.

It used to be worse.

In 2002, the state purged 67 boards determined to be unnecessary.
Some had seen their funding cut off by the General Assembly over the
years, such as the Southside Virginia Business and Education
Commission.

Some boards, such as the charity food assistance advisory board, had
never met but remained on the books.

Many obscure boards remain.

The United Nations Day in Virginia board continues to exist. So does
the plant pollination advisory board.

The governor has advisory boards on Armenian affairs, Latino
relations, and Asian relations.

The Virginia-Israel advisory board helps the state department of
economic partnership attract business from Israel. Set up three
governors ago, the board has 29 members, and “they help
tremendously,” said director Ralph Robbins.

Perhaps the strangest is the state board of regents for Gunston Hall,
a plantation originally owned by George Mason, the colonialist known
as the father of the Bill of Rights.

It is now a museum, deeded over to the state in the 1950s with the
provision it be administered by a private foundation.

The foundation picks the 48 members of the hall’s board of regents,
whose appointments are rubber-stamped by the governor of the state
that owns the place but has no other say in how it is run.

All of the board members are women, from across the country. They all
are descendents of colonists who contributed in some way to the
country’s creation. Many have five or six names each, clearly women
of pedigree.

“They are inarguably blue-bloods,” said Susan Blankenship,
spokeswoman for Gunston Hall.

They probably wouldn’t fit in on the state soybean board. Of course
there is one.

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