The record-setting scramble for positions on the Newport News School Board is over. Earlier this week the City Council picked four people from a field of 53 candidates.

The 49 men and women who weren’t chosen aren’t losers. Nor are they troublemakers.

In an age where most people are perfectly content to stand by and complain about problems in public schools, these folks were willing to be part of the solution.

Now if they can just maintain their enthusiasm, they can lead a long-needed revolution in municipal government: citizen participation.

Newport News and every other city and county around here can use all the help they can get. The battle for a spot on the Newport News School Board was a rare exception. There are far more opportunities for service in local government than there are people to serve.

I went to the Newport News city clerk’s office to find out what is available in the next six months for the School Board hopefuls who didn’t make it or for anyone else who wants to contribute.

Although a listing of the boards, commissions and committees appointed by the City Council fills a fat, blue loose-leaf binder, it is incomplete. Some boards, notably the School Board, make their own committee assignments.

We’re talking here about a potpourri of public service.

The well-worn pages of the city clerk’s notebook include the names of each board, commission or committee and its purpose, membership, term of office and current members.

After each description is a page that lists anyone who has expressed an interest in serving.

For those boards and commissions that have openings in the next six months, the waiting lists are, by and large, blank.

Nevertheless, the council will have to appoint citizens to an amazing array of posts by the end of the year. They range from positions monitoring the operation of cable television to committee members who recommend how the city should invest money in its employee pension fund.

There’s something for everyone, including kids, who may seek any of three appointments to the Mayor’s Youth Commission available in July.

Environmentalists interested in saving the Chesapeake Bay can ask to be included on a seven-member Wetlands Board the council also will appoint in July. If you want to be considered, you’d better file an application at the clerk’s office on the ninth floor of City Hall soon, because those appointments are about to be made.

The Wetlands Board will decide which of Newport News’ wetlands should be developed. Those are some of the most important decisions the city will make in the next several years.

Equally critical are the city’s dealings with its poor and dispossessed citizens.

The Social Services Advisory Board will have one position up for appointment in July. The board advises the city’s welfare bureaucracy on how to do its job. Anyone who has dealt with the welfare system knows how much room there is for improvement. But things will improve only when people show an interest in making them better.

That goes for all the boards and commissions.

The Peninsula Institute for Community Health, which is attempting to expand health care for people in Newport News’ East End, will have one board position up for appointment in September.

So will the Peninsula Agency on Aging, which provides home-delivered meals, education, recreation and other services to elderly citizens.

In September the City Council also will make three appointments to the Newport News Human Rights Commission. The commission looks into charges of illegal discrimination against city residents.

If you’d rather deal with money than the lack of it, the Committee on Investments for the city employees retirement fund has an opening in December. That same month, three public representatives will be placed on the pension fund’s board of trustees, which administers the fund and sets its rules and regulations.

The list goes on and on:

Don’t like drunken drivers, tailgaters or people who continually mistake Warwick Boulevard for Daytona International Speedway? Ask for one of the two openings on the Transportation Safety Commission that come up in October.

People with an interest in mass communications may ask for any of the five slots open in August on the Cable Television Advisory Commission.

Those who would like more city contracts to go to small businesses and businesses owned by women and minorities can check out the Business Opportunities Advisory Committee. In September the committee will have openings for a small business owner, a minority business owner, a woman business owner and two at-large members.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the limited collection and availability of books at the city’s public libraries, offer your services for one of the five posts on the Public Library Board of Trustees that the council must fill in September.

Watching the fierce competition for the School Board, one local political analyst observed that the real challenge was not for the council to appoint four people, but to find something for the other 49 to do.

Well, there’s plenty for them and everybody else to do, if only they’re willing to do it.



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