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In my experience the only thing I recall Commissioners doing is inspecting the campsite and assessing demerits after the boys had left for program areas. It usually resulted in a ribbon at the end of the week, which the boys couldn't have cared less about. No value added, in my opinion.
Our commissioner at Many Point met with the SM every morning right after flag raising to check if any campsite care was needed (tp, rope, poison ivy, ...), how yesterday went, the plan for today, and anything else to make our stay better. Over six years of taking the troop, never had a bad one - they were all well-trained and seemed eager to help.
We go to a patrol-oriented camp (Camp Bell, Griswold Scout Reservation, Daniel Webster Council, NH) and it relies heavily on commissioner service. They run the camp with 3, I think, and they are among the hardest-working camp staff I have ever seen.
They assist with equipment setup and lending (things like fixing broken stoves, refilling propane, providing dutch ovens or consumables, such as soap, TP, sanitizer tablets, condiments, etc); they do the regular morning and afternoon "rounds", sometimes specifically for talking to patrol leaders directly (instead of just the adult leaders), but they bring coffee on morning rounds; they take care of distributing coolers (packed by the commissary) for our patrol cooking, and cooler and trash pickup; they also assist with program in many, many ways. Sometimes as "floaters" to a program area that might be overloaded that day (you'd have to understand the camp -- patrols sign up for a day of activity in a program area -- for example, a day of sailing at the waterfront); or, they might be offsite on an "outpost" with a group overnight. The list goes on and on.
I think the CCs are definitely value added, and Gklose hit the nail on the head.
It's important for camp leadership to have a general idea of what's going on in camp. Not to meddle, or spy, but to keep an eye on morale, sanitation, etc. If all is well, great, a little chit chat about the weather, and off he goes. If something ain't right, the CC can detect it and help make it okay.
Ref my previous post, this particular summer we had a very toxic SM. Looking back, I think the CC's visits each day helped keep things in check.
When I was on camp staff in the late 70s (Camp Hugh Taylor Birch, Tecumseh Council, near Springfield, OH) I spent one year on the commissioner staff. I enjoyed it because the head commissioner was a fun guy (he was early 30s, one other commissioner was in his early 20s, and then there were two or three of us that were 17 or so). It wasn't a big camp, so we did "rounds" in the morning, and then in the afternoon, we were the "scoutcraft" program staff. We set up a "model campsite" and taught there.
I was a special case though. My Scoutmaster, a photographer, was the Program Director. He set up a darkroom in a tiny cabin, and I ran darkroom sessions for photography merit badge out of it.
It was a fun summer, but I preferred working in the camp kitchen, which is what I did the year prior and the year after.
Our camp commissioner the last two years has been an elderly fellow whose name escapes me....
Super nice, showed up at our campsite every morning after the SM meeting via golf cart, bad hips from the way he wobbles, and does our site inspection...Sits down has some coffee with us and sees how things are going. Addresses our concerns if any....
At lunch he hands the inspection report to the SPL and asks if he has any questions.....
Our boys were furious with our SPL not posting the fire chart and not earning their honor camper patch this year.....The boys immediately removed him from the post....
When I was a staff commissioner, we had three people who did commish duties, taught all the Scoutcraft MBs and ran the FYC program. Needless to say, the campsite visits and inspections were our lowest priority. The necessary focus on speed (zipping through all the sites to get back to teach our class on time) ensured Scouts got good instructional program, but didn't do much from the commissioner POV.
Thankfully, years later there are separate staffs for each. But not every camp has that luxury. Consider where your camp's priorities are.
Personally, I don't see a need for the commissioner system at camp, aside from site inspections. If I'm an SM and I have a problem, the CD or PD or area director is going to hear it from me or my SPL or one of my PLs. I can brew my own coffee and the boys can fetch their own TP. And a commish stopping by the campsite during the day is probably not going to find me there anyway. (I found that to be true in the vast majority of my visits.)
That said, I admit my perception is clouded by the fact that my - very compact - camp has largely shifted to a dining hall camp, away from patrol cooking and even heater stacks. The troop leaders can chat 1-on-1 with the CD and PD by walking 200 feet from the DH to the admin office. In a more spread-out, site-cooking camp, commissioner visits would be more important.
Added: On the topic of inspections - some troops didn't care, others Really Cared. Some sites, boys would be crowding around the bulletin board watching me write their score and cheering or groaning loudly. The competitive drive for collective cleanliness was quite remarkable.(This message has been edited by Shortridge)
So we just got back from a Canadian Scout camp (which is outlined in another post), and it struck me that they didn't have commissioners either, and with the way the camp was set up, it didn't really matter. The Camp Factor (director) was available almost all of the time, for any issues that popped up (but there really weren't any).
She started off the campsite inspections, the first day, with one unit leader. The next day, that unit leader accompanied our unit leader on inspections. Then the next day, our unit leader accompanied the next guy. The last day, the Camp Factor joined the unit leader who was covering that day. Inspections went just fine.
It also set up some good-natured ribbing between units. The leader in the campsite adjacent to us spoke of his fondness for Mars bars. So we bought one and gave it to him as an award for coming in second place the previous day (behind us). And we got back just as much from him.
So, all in all, I would agree. Sometimes I think you can do without commissioners. But the program I was explaining in my first response on this thread -- that camp depends entirely on having a hard-working commissioner staff. The camp couldnt' run without them.
That can't happen here now. Under the new standards it's mandatory to have a commissioner who's attended the commissioner section of National Camping School (or has "equivalent skills"). While the camp commissioner can be assigned other duties, meaning some other area director or someone can also be the commissioner, the camp director is not allowed to take on other duties. I guess, in the US, the camp director is not supposed to be easily accessible to campers.