A Portable Guide for Local Government Advisory Board Members
By Len Wood

This little handbook was created for volunteer members of citizen advisory boards to help them grasp their roles and responsibilities. The compact reference guide contains tips, advice and checklists for commissions, committees and boards on such items as:

How to prepare for meetings

Clarifying roles and responsibilities

Identifying typical chairperson duties

Avoiding typical chairperson mistakes

Stimulating public participation

Developing a commission work program

Evaluating staff reports

Managing difficult meetings

Avoiding the twenty ways to offend colleagues

Dealing with hidden agendas

Len Wood’s book is terrific. I’ve worked with elected and appointed officials in five states and needed this concise handbook. It is timely, educational, and most importantly, performance and results-oriented. Every elected and appointed official and agency employee would benefit from this handbook.
--Ted A Gaebler Co-Author, Reinventing Government

Mr. Wood’s wealth of public sector experience has been digested into a concise, well written manual packed with wisdom that is valuable to both elected and appointed board members. Virtually every situation a commission member will face is covered in this handy guide.
--Lauren Wasserman, Former Director of Planning for San Diego County

The Commissioner’s Little Handbook captures the essential information needed by advisory board members and staff liaisons in a handy 71/4 by 41/4 inch document. Incisive and perceptive, this book should be provided to every advisory board member. As every city manager knows our future bosses usually begin as commissioners.
--Howard Chambers City Administrator Lakewood, California

From Planning, April, 1993:
Small is beautiful. The
Commissioner’s Little Handbook is, as the subtitle says, a portable guide for local government advisory board members. It’s by Len Wood, a former city manager of Rancho Palos Verdes and Claremont, California, who’s now a management consultant and trainer. “I’ve probably attended at least 1,300 meetings of city councils, planning commissions and so on. And I noticed that there’s very little literature available to help commissioners work together. That’s why I wrote the book,” he says.

It really is little: just 144 pages in a 4.25-by-7.25 inch ring binder. There are four sections: on roles and responsibilities, meeting framework, teamwork, and personal growth. Each section includes checklists on staff responsibilities, for instance): diagnostic questionnaires (on procedural rules, among other things): and quotes from people as unexpected as Yogi Berra. (“You can observe an awful lot by just watching,”) There’s also much good advice on making tough decisions and asking the right questions.

From Public Management, March 1993:
Author Len Wood estimates that in the United States there are over 1.2 million appointed advisory board members providing advice and recommendations to over eighty-three-thousand local governments. Once appointed, these citizen volunteers are given some exposure to the technical aspects of the job, an out-of-date orientation manual and promptly asked to take on complicated community or organizational issues. Unfortunately, they are given very little guidance on the nuances of working with a group of diverse people within a complex local government political environment.

As a result they must learn “on the job” and while they are learning, they are non-contributing members of the commission. When these new members attend meetings, they do not actively participate because they do not have the confidence to jump into the commission discussion nor do they ask questions for fear of looking uninformed. This getting up-to-speed period costs the organization dollars, not only in terms of wasted energy, but also lost staff time and resources.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Commissioner’s Little Handbook helps address this information gap. It is a portable reference guide containing a bountiful source of ideas, advice and checklists for commissioners, staff members who provide commission support and the elected officials who appoint these advisory board members.

The author is Len Wood, former City Manager, who notes that he has attended over 1,300 commission and city council meetings as a participant or observer during his twenty-three year career in local government. Wood also has served as a chairperson of a local government advisory commission. The Commissioner’s Handbook provides insights and guidelines for commissioners on how to:

Prepare for Meetings. Agenda packets with all their background material can be intimidating. The Handbook suggests eight steps to follow when preparing for meetings.

Understand Roles and Responsibilities. An on-going problem many commissions face is one of defining just what is their role. Commissioner’s Little Handbook, covers roles and responsibilities of elected officials, staff and commissions. Media relationships are also discussed.

Identify Typical Chairperson Responsibilities and Mistakes. The chairperson is the team captain. When a commission is not functioning properly, it may be because the role the chair is expected to perform has not been articulated and agreed upon or the chairperson is not providing strong guidance. Commissioner’s Little Handbook identifies chairperson responsibilities and seventeen common mistakes made by chairs.

Make Tough Decisions. While the majority of the decisions made by a commission are routine, a percentage will have a significant impact upon the future of the city or organization. The handbook suggests fifteen thoughtful question to ask when faced with a major decision.

Ask the Right Questions. When first appointed commissioners are hesitant to ask a question for fear of looking dumb. As a result, they remain quiet and this quietness may be misinterpreted as consent. The handbook makes suggestions for comfortably asking questions. Sample probing questions are also included.

Some other topics covered in the Commissioner’s Little Handbook include communicating with elected officials, surfacing hidden agendas, twenty things that offend commission colleagues, welcoming new members, encouraging public participation, ten things the audience notices about commission meetings, common motions, the use of subcommittees, avoiding surprises, listening skills and performance measures for commissions.

Book Specifications

  • Size: Portable size, 7 1/4 by 4-1/4 inch
  • Cover: Vinyl
  • Binding: Loose-leaf ring binder
  • Pages: 144
  • Price: $24.95
  • Publication Date: 1992
  • Most Recent Reprint: January 2000
  • ISBN: 0-9634374-0-2
  • Publisher: Training Shoppe

Price: $24.95