Tara Jacobs: Governor’s Council — an awareness campaign | Columnists
As a candidate for Governor’s Council in District 8 — which encompasses 102 cities and towns in the four western counties of Massachusetts, as well as a few towns in Worcester County — I discovered that my campaign was centered on education. and awareness.
Remarkably, few voters have heard of the Governor’s Council, let alone know what the council does. Yet it is one of the most important and impactful roles of our state government.
So what is the Governor’s Council and what does it do?
Eight councilors, each representing a regional district, are elected every two years to work with the governor and the lieutenant governor, who is the ex officio chairman of the council. They are responsible for a long list of key decisions that directly and indirectly impact our community and our communities.
While the council fulfills a number of specific advisory and consenting roles as a constitutional check and balance to the executive branch, the first item on the list is the confirmation of judges to the bench. From the district to the superior to the Supreme Judicial Court and all the courts of the Commonwealth, all appointments to the posts of judge must be confirmed by the council.
The second most important thing, in my opinion, is to confirm the appointments of members to the parole board.
Judges matter. Who sits on the bench, his character and his qualifications, matters. And in our state, where the racial disparities in our justice systems rank among the highest in the nation, it is more important than ever that those who represent us on the Board of Governors actively work to address these injustices.
Why is this role so little understood?
In the many months I have spent campaigning for this role, during which so many constituents have told me they have never heard of the Governor’s Council, this issue has been a priority. And I have some ideas on how to make the work of this very important body better known.
On your ballots — and sample ballots are already traveling through mailboxes in Western Massachusetts — the role of the governor’s council isn’t actually labeled as such. Instead, the ballots present the list of candidates under the ambiguous word “advisor”. This could explain why so few people remember voting for the Governor’s Council when the actual words do not appear on the ballot, although they do appear on primary and general election ballots every both years. This would be a simple solution that would help better connect voters to the office.
Another reason contributing to the challenge is the lack of transparency that obscures the Governor’s Council.
Interestingly, the council is not subject to the Commonwealth Open Meetings Act, as specified in Massachusetts General Law Chapter 30A. And even after dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, the board resisted having cameras in the room during their sessions. The availability of records of council deliberations should be maintained, and the behavior and positions of councilors should be in the public domain.
Representation matters. Those elected to represent us matter. Members of the Governor’s Council must take responsibility for accountability to the public.
We are all affected daily by the decisions made by our elected officials and we must demand transparency and accountability in all the work they do.
The public deserves nothing less.
Tara Jacobs of North Adams is a member of the North Adams School Committee. She is a candidate for Massachusetts Governor’s Council District 8, which includes Berkshire County.