Massachusetts Has Dozens of 'Zombie Boards'

August 1, 2014

Massachusetts is failing to properly staff and track hundreds of state boards, committees, and commissions, a Senate panel concluded in a report released Wednesday, resulting in what some call “zombie boards” that never meet.

The Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight discovered dozens of state panels that have not met or produced reports in years, alongside new committees that have not been able to start because of empty seats, while still other panels appear to be redundant. The review found that 48 boards are probably no longer needed either because they have completed their work or outlived their missions, such as one that issued its final report on the future of Boston Harbor beaches in the 1990s.

“I was surprised that we hadn’t taken action earlier,” said Senator Cynthia S. Creem, the Newton Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, who added that many people count on state boards to champion issues they care about. “I think it’s been neglected.”

The Senate researchers’ work was complicated, however, by the fact that the governor’s website for boards and commissions omitted some panels where the governor does not make appointments. And information for the roughly 700 boards that were listed was “often absent, incomplete, out-of-date and/or incorrect.”

“The Commonwealth’s current system for appointing commission members and monitoring commissions’ activities is inadequate,” the report found.

The Senate launched the review last spring after the Globe reported that more than one-third of the seats on state boards and commissions were either vacant or filled with holdovers whose terms had officially expired months or years ago — a figure that took many state officials by surprise. The Globe also found that some boards had not met in decades (including at least one with a member who was dead), while others struggled to gather a quorum because of the vacancies.

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