However, two civic groups have said that not enough residents are invited to participate, or know enough about these influential boards.
A local activist group called Civic JC, along with a larger group called the Citizens' Campaign (a branch of the Edison-based Center for Civic Responsibility), announced in February the results of a new survey calling for improved civic participation in Jersey City.
The survey found that there was not "a formal and open application process" for the boards, and quoted City Clerk Robert Byrne's response by memo in March 2007 (which he confirmed in a recent interview) that "If a member of the public would like to be considered for such a position, the individual should write a letter of interest to their councilperson and the Honorable Jerramiah T. Healy, mayor."
Not long ago, in neighboring Hoboken, that city's nine-member council voted to make their board positions more accessible to the public. They approved an ordinance to force City Hall to advertise open volunteer positions on the city's boards, so that citizens who were not politically connected would be aware of the openings and who was up for appointment. This was an effort to make government more open.
While Jersey City does not openly advertise board positions either, citizens can eventually get appointed if they are involved on the local level, said one activist.
Leon Yost is a member of the Jersey City Planning Board since 2001. That board votes on applications to develop property in the city, and also can make recommendations to the City Council about changes in development law. The board has six volunteer members and two alternates.
Yost said recently that he was appointed by then-Mayor Bret Schundler based on his years as a community activist in downtown Jersey City, particularly in his role as the president of a neighborhood group, the Van Vorst Park Association.
Yost said for a regular citizen, there is more to getting on a board than just writing a letter.
"The neighborhood associations have frequently recommended people to the mayor, as they have a particular skill in knowing who would be a good person to serve on a board," Yost said.
Some of these board appointments are made by the mayor, and others are initially made by the mayor but must be voted on by the council.'It's hard work for free'
Yost said his seven years serving on the Planning Board have taught him important lessons that he would impart to anyone wanting to serve on a board.
"They should attend every meeting, and they should sit and listen without commenting, because there will plenty of time to talk," Yost said. "And if it is a land use board, it is important to visit all the sites [up for approval]."
He also summed up his years on the board: "It's hard work for free."
Yost also recommends serving on a board that fits your interest or expertise.
"I happened to be interested in urban planning, and I am an architectural photographer," Yost said.
Yost said the city has been good in filling the vacancies of boards such as the Planning Board that make decisions that have a major impact on the city.
"Having vacancies on boards is a practice the city had to refrain from doing, since there have been significant court cases that have overturned decisions in recent years," said Yost.
Yost was particularly referring to a development that was stopped because activists pointed out, in a lawsuit, that several members of the Planning Board who voted on it had been serving after their terms expired.
That project, the Millennium Towers condo project proposed for the Jersey City-Hoboken border, was stopped in court in 1999 from ever being constructed. Other boards
Some of the other boards in the city include:
* The Historic Preservation Commission, which designates historic landmarks and historic districts, and authorizes permission to alter historic buildings during development.
* The Ethical Standards Board, which upholds the city's ethics code by looking at potential violations submitted by the public or by officials.
* The Rent Leveling Board, which determines the amount of rent landlords can raise for tenants in buildings they own. Comments on this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org