Monday, August 22, 2005

The CCAC Wants You

Montgomery County Maryland is looking to fill 6 vacancies on its citizen telecommunications advisory committee (CCAC). The CCAC's primary responsibility is to provide advice to the County Council and the County Executive regarding telecommunication issues such as the cable franchise. The committee meets one evening a month and is uncompensated.

Having served on the committee, I can tell you that service on the committee has its good points and bad points.

The Bad Points
  • Since the committee only meets once a month, it's difficult to make progress on some types of issues. Although email between members helps, approval of actions, recommendations, etc, requires committee votes which can only be done in person at meetings scheduled well in advance.

  • The committee turns over frequently. Combined with a lack of ready access to historical notes, this means that the committee is frequently working in a kind of start-up mode with little knowledge of what came before.

  • As far as I can tell, the County Executive has ignored every committee recommendation ever made.
So What Are The Good Points?
  • Committee members get several hours each month of undivided attention from the Cable Office and the Council staffmember on telecomm affairs.

  • The committee can write opinions that presumably represent large numbers of citizens.

  • The Council pays attention to the committee and sometimes gives it an opportunity to speak during worksessions and meetings.
However, individual citizens can also get the same access just by showing up to the committee meetings. And County staff are generally willing to talk to citizens no matter who they might be. Furthermore, individuals can write opinions and present them to the county or the newspaper.

While on the committee, I sometimes found that it was impossible to get a consensus from the committee or that committee approval required watering down the opinion. For this reason, even while on the committee, I testified at hearings under my own name. Indeed, on several occasions, I authored the committee opinion as well as one of my own! Now that I'm off the committee, I have continued to personally testify at hearings. As far as I can tell, my testimony is appreciated. I know other people who testify personally who have never served officially - their testimony is also appreciated.

All That Said, I Still Attend Committee Meetings

Why do I attend despite obviously finding the committee itself a source of frustration?
  • First, I find Cable Administrator Jane Lawton's briefings invaluable. She is the expert in Montgomery County and is the center of action - she knows everyone and everything. Her office sits on a powder keg - between the Executive, the Council, the inspectors, the FCC, the franchisees, the citizens, and the media. Yes, I could go home and watch demolition derby. But it's more fun to see it all live - listening to her keep it all in check is just plain fun.

  • Second, I enjoy meeting and talking with other people who are interested in telecomm issues and trying to improve them in the county. I particularly like the current Chair (Shep Bostin, Geeks on Call) who appears to be trying really hard to make the committee productive and useful.

  • Finally, guests attend from a variety of organizations including Comcast, Starpower, and the PEG channels. Frequently these are high-level managers or VPs so it provides opportunities to lobby them for changes in their practices. In addition, the guests are usually welcome to provide status reports and I always enjoy them, particularly when they present their version of the facts.

    Nowadays, there is so much turnover, particular in Comcast, that it is simply fun to see who Comcast will send. For almost a year, Comcast couldn't find anyone at all to send. Or maybe they chose to send no one intentionally. With more resignations in the air, it will be fascinating to see what the company does next.
What - You're Still Interested?

Assuming I haven't completely turned you off to this idea, you can apply by emailing a cover letter and resume to The deadline is September 2.

One Last Bit Of Advice

As I mentioned earlier, the County Executive doesn't want to hear strong opinions while the County Council does. Because of this conflict, it's important to realize you have to temper your comments during the interview. Indeed, several well-qualified applicants have been rejected because they spoke TOO honestly. I am specifically referring to several applicants who had personally testified with sound advice at county hearings. But they were rejected. To the best of my knowledge, no one who has ever testified at a county hearing has been permitted to serve on the committee. (And all committee members who personally testified were also rejected upon re-application for subsequent terms.)

This is rather unfortunate and frankly, totally backwards. If you only appoint people who don't go to hearings on their own, why expect them to behave any differently just because they've been appointed to a volunteer position. Indeed, some people who are apppointed then don't even show up to meetings and drop the committee after 6 months. And some people attend but contribute nothing for the same reason that they never attending any county hearings in the first place on their own.

Bottom line: When interviewed, don't admit to ever having attended any hearings or submitted testimony (even in writing) or complaints to the cable office. Don't admit to knowing anyone else on the committee. Don't admit to reading this blog or, for that matter, the newspaper in general. Instead, when asked why you're applying, stick with generic platitudes and remarks about how important it is that citizens give something back to the county and willingly serve in volunteer positions.

Good luck.

No comments: