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What good are commissioners (really)

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While I'm new to the net, this is an timely topic. We have 120 units in our district and some "50" commissioners. Ironicly only about 11 are assigned to units. It doesn't work. The District Commissioner brags how our district meets the goals for number of commissioners. Quite honestly in our case the commissioner program is of little help to the units. We jokingly call the commissioner program in our district, "The Boy Scout Hospice Program" it's where old Scouter's fade away! Not very flatering but right on target.

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Have to admit to being a little blown away by the size of some of the Districts. Some seem to be the size of the Council that is fortunate enough to have me as a member.

Sad to say the District Commissioner that took over the position in January has for work reasons resigned.

The nominating committee didn't invite the District Commissioner before this one to serve another year because he was losing commissioners and not doing a very good job of recruiting. To make matters worse he was telling us that we had all these Unit Commissioners, when we didn't.

Sure we looked good on paper, but pretend Commissioners don't make unit visits.

I am upset. It seems that we have a DE who no one seems to know what he is doing. It could be that he doesn't know what to do? His boss our new FD is going to talk to him when he gets time.

I have seen what was a fair sized, fairly confident commissioner staff disintegrate over the past two and a half years.

Over this time we have in part because of poor commissioner service:

Lost more units than at any time in our history.

Seen units charters come in late.

Had to rely on the Finance Committee to attend B&G Banquets to do FOS presentations. (Yes I know it's their job, but if the unit commissioner was there he or she would help out by doing it. And over half of the finance committee are not uniformed members.)

Attendance at R/T is down.

Information that the Commissioners used to pass on to all the unit leaders is now being mailed to the unit leader who decides what and what not he or she wants to share. "We knew nothing about it" is now a common reason for something not being done or poor attendance.

I have missed episodes of The West Wing due to having new leaders sit in my living room telling me that they are in over their head. I ended up having to learn out how to set this new DVD recorder thing and I had spent 20 years learning how to tape on VHS!!

I don't know what use Commissioners are. But I sure as heck notice when we don't have them.


I'm catching the missed episodes of West Wing on Bravo.

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Hello novpr!


You describe weaknesses in your Commissioner program, but don't describe if this is having actual consequences for your district.


Eamonn describes the weaknesses in his district, and describes in detail how they affect the functioning of the district.


As I see it, weaknesses in one element of Scouting are often met by other elements of scouting who pick up the ball when others have dropped it. When there is no one to pick up the ball, you have troubles. Eamonn seems to have a lot of balls on his hands.


After reading through this thread, it seems to me that the big question is how to inspire us tired old has been Unit Commissioners to get in there and do the job that needs to be done. How do you do that?


In my district, the District Commissioneer is trying. He has a blizzard of statistics that he reviews at the monthly District meeting, and invites each commissioner to report on what is going on in their units (rather commonly, litanies of Doom).


I had to protest last month that I was being snowed under by statistics, but the District Commissioner is trying. What other things can he try to inspire improved performance?



Seattle Pioneer

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Like most of you, I've seen really good commissioners and really bad ones. I'd like to think I'm one of the good ones.


I've sat in commissioner meetings where some old guy either a) gives a false report on the status of his units -- meaning he has no contact but sits there and says they're doing fine, or b) he asks the DE how his units are doing.


I expect a DE to know how the unit is doing, but the first line should be the commissioner, not the district executive.


However, there are a number of commissioners out there who do visit the units, or at least talk to parents and leaders within the unit on a regular basis who are very helpful to the unit.


There are also units out there who want nothing to do with "council" and who see commissioners as council spys who come in to inspect what they're doing and make adverse reports.


Rather than grouse about the commissioner corps ... here's my question to the group at large:


What are you prepared to do to fix it? I'm a cut to the chase kind of guy.


Are you prepared to become a unit commissioner once you're done with your obligation to the unit you serve? Will you take the proper training? Will you agree to serve another unit rather than the one you're currently registered with? It's not a tough job to be a unit commissioner. You just have to do it. Visit the unit, keep them informed, help out and know when to shut up.


I also think it's incumbent upon the District Commissioner (I've never been one of those, so I apologize to those who have) to have the guts to retire ineffective unit commissioners and move them to the Scouter Reserve. If it's tenure they chose to ride out, put them in the back 40.



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I think that unit commissioners are as good as you want them to be...

It all depends on how and what you need them for.

If you are expecting them to be the pearls of wisdom and know it alls, then I think your expectation is too high.


My unit commissioner is a good one. She is there when I need her and gets to the bottom of issues that I bring to her.

She is a go between to the District staff.

She is not old, not bored, and not looking for a social outlet.

She is a dedicated Scouter that really wants to help.


My perspective on this comes from a Scoutmaster that had the pleasure of starting up a new Troop. The Unit commissioner proved to be a valuable asset to me.




I used to be a BEAVER...

and a Good 'ol BEAVER too..

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  • 2 months later...

I am a Unit Commissioner I work with Venturing, I do not consider

myself a spy for District or Council. I enjoy trying to help the crews I visit on crew meeting nights, I have helped them to do Camporees visited with them at a special needs camporee. I get involved with the crews. I visit VOA Meetings, This Unit Commissioner

is visible to the crew he services. I have cruised the net getting them information on new improvements in Venturing. I attended Venture

Quest to obtain information for my crew. I attend District Meetings.

Now please do not mis-understand me I am not bragging. But when you

say what good are commissioners really do not lump all commissioners in the same lump. In my same district I know of other commissioners really involved with troops, packs and crews. So lets not stereotype all commissioners by the few you do not really see.




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Being a UC for several years and in the different lands that I have moved, allows me to give my two cents worth. The UC is important and can be most helpful. They can be informative. They can know who to refer a unit to that is in need. They can deliver the message. They can be a friend.


My last assignment defied doing any of this because of the suspicion and the anger at being "found out". Without me even knowing what was happening and reporting it, like a spy, it came to light on its' own and the collapse came without me doing anything; it was a nasty business.


For those units that are not stuffing the bodies in the closet (i.e., do not have anything to hide), then it becomes a joy to serve them. It really is a friendship of mutual support. It is relationship that is built on trust because the UC is an integral part of the program.


Some would support the position that the UC is there to act like a self-contained District Committee (i.e., Training, Membership, Finance, and Program) but I don't. As a friend, I am willing to point the way to those opportunities. I am willing to go with the leaders to the sessions. I am willing to give support to the unit not be everything, not do everything.







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Great Thread.


I have twice (for a total of 7 years) been Council Commissioner. Most recently, I had responsibility for about 400 units. According to the National 1/3 ratio, this would require at least 133 unit serving Commissioners. On the books when I took over, we had 12 names in four Districts of which 6 were actually doing anything. We were up to 40 Commissioners when my tour of duty ended 4 years later. Big improvement, but far from what we needed to have.


The problem was, as outlined in the thread, that there are some great potential Commissioners out there, but they are working in units. We need to find a large number of leaders who want to help Scouting, not just their son or their unit. And we need to keep replacing them as they move, or age out, or get recruited for other Scouting jobs. It's really tough.


We had to create a triage system with our 40 Commissioners. We asked where would they make the most impact? It likely wouldn't be the great units -- they don't need a Commissioner. And it likely wouldn't be the weak or dying units -- they are too tough. So it would be the average or slightly below average units. The ones where some help and mentoring and training could really make a difference. The other units we tried to help other ways.


This meant, among other things, that the good units keep complaining that they never saw a Commissioner. Yet, I remember one newly recruited Commissioner who was resigining saying that he went to visit his first Troop meeting with a newly assigned Troop. The Scoutmaster had been in place 25 years. And the Scoutmaster dumped on the new Commissioner for 25 years of everything that the Scoutmaster thought that the District, the Council or Scouting had done wrong. The Commissioner told me "I don't need this."


I haven't seen a consistently good way to get and retain Commissioners other in those few Districts and Councils where being a Commissioner is the "thing to do." They can have a great time. But how does that get started? I don't know.

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Hello Neil---



Good post. I'd say if you went from twelve to forty Commissioners you were doing something right. What was the secret of your success?



My District Commissioner's meeting hits hard every month at trying to identify new Commissioners, but it's tough, just as you describe. I suppose one partial answer is not to overlook anyone who is a reasonable possibility. If they are, talk to them and ask them to serve.



I suggested earlier in this thread the possibility of recruiting Eagle or other Scouts, or Venturers who might be 21 or so and recruit them as Commissioners. We seem to just let those young men faaade away in a lot of cases.


Someone else suggested targeting Cubmasters or Pack Committee chairs who have had their boys age out of Cub Scouts as Commissioners.


Do any of those categories of people sound promising to you as a source of Commissioners?




Seattle Pioneer

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Hello Seattle,


Your District Commissioner's meeting is one key answer. As Council Commissioner, we had a meeting every month to review Commissioner activities and the first item was always recruiting and membership.


We held trainings on how to recruit Commissioners and a yearly Commissioner's Conference. Adjoining councils held Colleges of Commissioner Science and encouraged attendance there.


I was always on the lookout for potential Commissioners and considered it to be part of my job to recommend potential Commissioners to the District Commissioners.


My professional counterpart, the Director of Field Services (who was just promoted to Scout Executive in another council, really good guy) and I discussed Commissioner a lot. He helped by encouraging the DEs and DDs to recruit Commissioners.


We tried to ensure that there was always a backup candidate for District Commissioner. One of the more serious problems occurs when a DC slot goes vacant for a period of time. You can lose a lot of momentum.


We recognized Commissioners a lot with the Arrowhead Honor, the Scouter Training Award, the Commissioner's Key and the Distinguished Commissioner Award. I made sure that Commissioners were nominated for the District Award of Merit and for the Silver Beaver.


We had special hats with the Commissioner's insignia on them for our Commissioner's team.


We sent a few Commissioners to Philmont Training Center.


We had every member of the Commissioner's Staff (myself included) serve as a Unit Commissioner for at least one unit.


Recruiting retiring Cubmasters and Pack Committee Chairmen is a good idea, but a problem can be that they typically move to Boy Scouting with their sons. It can work better with female retiring Cubmasters and Pack Committee Chairmen; there seem to be more women, on a percentage basis, who would rather support Cub Scouting than become Boy Scout leaders.


We had women in District Commissioner slots. This made other women feel more welcome in becoming Commissioners.


We had a discussion on Commissioners at Wood Badge and at other training events. We talked about the need for Commissioners and encouraged people to join the staff.


Another key item is that we realized that recruiting is a numbers game. For every Commissioner who is recruited, probably 3-10 people have to be asked. You can never stop. I think that the ideal person for building a Commissioner's staff (rather than maintaining one) might be a used car salesman.


The places that I have seen the best Commissioner's Staffs have a Council Commissioner and District Commissioners who are warm bubbly people whom people just like to be around and who make others want to be Commissioners just to be around them. I greatly admire that skill, but don't have it myself . To the extent that we were successful, it was through grunt work, persistence and focus on making Commissioner service real and fun.

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So those of you who are a UC or DC, I am sure you see others in the position who do not do their duties. If you had to take a guess why do you think they sign up for a position if they are not going to do anything? Is it just a status thing for them? They can say the have a title and tell others they help scouters? The reason I ask, 8 years as a scouter, I have had one call from a UC asking when and where our meetings were so he could visit, after this conversation, he vanished. In 8 years I have never had a representitive from the district show up for a CS or BS meeting, I have never even seen one introduced at round table. I started a new troop recently, I really needed help. The DE was able to help some but she was more interested in getting another application than with how the troop operates. If it weren't for reading posts on this forum and asking other scouters questions I could not have done it.

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The problem is that many UCs are former unit leaders who either weren't good at what they did...or who are burned out but want to keep on the rosters. So now you have poor leaders without a unit to tell what to do wrong, so they tell other peoples units what to do wrong. Or they are tired or busy (which is why they left their other position) and they are just treading water but keeping their registration active.


Not not all commissioners fit that description, there are always exceptions, but certainly many (too many) do. The fault has to be put on the District Key 3. Choosing good commissioners is as much the responsibility of the district as choosing unit leaders is the responsibility of the COs.(This message has been edited by Bob White)

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Hi Bob,

While for the most part I agree with what you.

Still the Key 3 at times does have to settle for either what they can get or at times what the inherit.

I have posted before how when I became a District Commissioner, I gave all the Commissioners a Commissioner Patch and informed them that they could keep it for a year.

Still there were times and there were Commissioners who were like a stopped clock, we kept them on in the hope that if nothing else they would be right twice a day.


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