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Column: Understanding town government

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of columns by town officials that aims to help residents avail themselves of municipal services.
What is the difference between a Task Force, a Steering Committee, a Committee, a Commission and a Board?
Generally, each group differs in duration, scope, level of formality and, in some cases, the legal basis for membership.
Task Forces are appointed to focus on a single issue which can be analyzed in a few meetings to formulate a recommendation for consideration by the board or committee which formed the task force. For example, the selectboard appointed the Homestead Policy Task Force this summer to review statutes and policies on penalties for late-filed paperwork associated with the assessment of state education property taxes for residents. This task force met once to develop a recommendation which was adopted by the selectboard.
Task forces currently working on special topics in Middlebury include the Performance Bond Task Force, the Municipal Gymnasium Task Force and the Town Center Finance & Fundraising Task Force.
Steering Committees are project based or focused on multi-faceted issue, and are appointed on an as-needed basis. Existing steering committees include the River Management Steering Committee and the Town Center Steering Committee.
Committees are appointed on an annual basis and are focused on particular service areas. Selectboard committees include the Public Works Committee and the Public Safety Committee. These committees function as subcommittees of the selectboard and include at least two members of the Board, the appropriate department head and members of the community. These appointments are made in March, just after the annual election.
Commissions are typically defined by local ordinance or state law. Examples include the Downtown Improvement District Commission (local ordinance) and the Planning Commission (state law). Terms are multi-year as defined by the applicable ordinance or law.
Boards may be elected or appointed. Most of the town’s boards are elected, including the selectboard, the Board of Listers and the Board of Trustees for the Ilsley Public Library. There are also boards of elected officials, such as the Board of Civil Authority and the Board of Abatement. The Development Review Board is appointed by the selectboard as authorized in state statute.
Although there are exceptions to each of these naming practices, these general guidelines are offered as a tool for navigating town government.
Openings on steering committees, commissions and boards are advertised and posted on the town’s website, www.middlebury.govoffice.com.
Note: the Town Center Steering Committee is still looking for members for the Gym Task Force and F & F Task Force. Interested parties should contact the Town Manager’s Office at 802-388-8100 ext. 201.
Do you have a question about town government in Middlebury? Please contact me at the Middlebury town offices. Who knows? Your question could be the one used for next month’s column.

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