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How competent is your Unit Commissioner?

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Frequently, when scouters write in with issues, the answer is, "Contact your Unit Commissioner". Previous threads have lamented that the Commissioner Service is broken. In the unit I am privileged to serve, the SM and CC are both Eagles, with a combined service star total of over 60 years. After being chartered for 15 years as a Troop, we were finally appointed a Unit Commissioner. She is a nice enough person, and doesn't interfere, however the sum total of her experience in scouting is a few years as a Den Leader. I can see where some long term scouters may take issue with someone who doesn't know a Merit Badge from a Wood Badge coming in to "assess the health of your unit" and give you advice on how to make it better. On the other hand, I agree with Eamonn that joining the Commissioner coffee klatsch should not be a reward for retired Scoutmasters.

 

So how competent is your UC? Do you even have a UC? Does your UC actually help when you have an issue that needs wise counsel?

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Just because your UC has not been in Scouting for 60 years, & has only held the unit position of Den Leader, does not mean she will be a bad UC. There are books a plenty for her to read, training a plenty for her to take & people a plenty for her to ask, including her District Commissioner. Just because she has never done a merit badge or taken Wood Badge does not mean she does not know the difference between them.

 

The only problem I see is with units like yours, where the leaders have been around forever & will be condescending & ignore all of her efforts. However, that attitude is what UC's have to put up with & work around all of the time.

 

Our UC is a grand old fellow. His son went to the parish school & was a member of both the Pack & the Troop. He has been with our units for about 30+ years. He offers suggestions now & then or tells us stories of how things used to be done. He is WAY to close to the SM (who has been there almost as long as he has) to ever see any problems with the way the Troop is run (& there are some). He is a very nice man & if we ever went to him with a problem I am sure he would do his best to help. Would we ever ask for another UC? No way, he is a fixture & we love him. Would we ever recommend him as UC for any other unit? No way.

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We've had at least three unit commissioners over the last several years. The first was completely invisible. That were during the start up phase for the unit, where it could have theoretically been helpful to have a UC. Then we were assigned a nice guy who just seemed absolutely clueless. There's no way he could have helped us out. And now we have a tremendously competent woman. But it's hard for me to see what she could actually do for us, beyond being the symbolic presence of the district. And it's probably the case that healthy, growing units with experienced leaders don't have much need for a UC. We've got a relatively deep set of adult leaders, many of whom have a lot of organizational experience and wisdom.

 

Oak Tree

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I do think that while the idea of Commissioner Service is a good idea, sadly it just seems to be broken and I don't think it can be fixed.

In our area a District Commissioner will accept any body that is still even slightly warm as some sort of a Commissioner.

We have people who don't know that they are Commissioners.

People who do know they are Commissioners,but who are very often had no idea that somehow their name has been linked to units that they know nothing about.

People who like the title but have never done anything and more than lightly never will.

Commissioners who do everything but deliver Commissioner Service. They are too busy working on FOS, Camp promotion, Training, District Events.

People who if the rules were followed should not be Commissioners.

For a District of 40 Units we might have 3 "Real" Commissioners.

Even our District Commissioner is new to Scouting. He is a nice fellow and a Den Leader. When I asked how he came to be District Commissioner, I was told that there just wasn't anyone else.

Still to be fair even someone with very limited experience and knowledge can serve the District as a Unit Commissioner. He or She can observe and report.

While maybe not living up to or meeting the expectations of the Unit, this is still a good thing or could be a good thing.

Last time I looked at the number of Commissioners needed by each Region on the Commissioner pages of the National web site it seemed to me that we needed a lot.

Of course the numbers didn't and don't show the number who really do the job.

A month or so back I stopped in at monthly meeting of our Commissioner Staff. The Ship hasn't seen anyone since it started.

I was shocked to see 3 people sitting around having a chat.

One was an old timer who serves as UC for a unit that he is the COR and ASM for.

One was the District Commissioner. The other is an old Scouter who can't drive at night.

I had gone with the intention of complaining about the lack of service.

I didn't bother!!

Eamonn.

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We have a UC. Earlier this winter I needed to find out who that person was in order to follow up on something that our district leadership asked us to do.

 

I contacted our committee chair, was given the wrong name.

I contacted our District Commish, was told we didn't have one.

I contacted our DE, was given the wrong name.

I contacted our District Chair (who one of the above told me was our UC) and was given the wrong name.

 

When I finally found out who our UC was I contacted all of the above to let THEM know. It turns out the UC has been to a troop meeting (some guy in the back of the room, whom no one could identify - he didn't approach anyone either but that's how I found out who he was). If we ever really had a problem? I can't imagine calling on this gentleman to help us since we have no relationship with him at all.

 

I had similar experiences with the pack we were part of. When we had a leadership meltdown and really needed help, at one point we found ourselves in a meeting room with the pack committee and four or five district types including the UC and the District Commissioner. I've gotten to know them since then and they're great guys who know a lot about scouting. But they weren't much help to us because a) we'd never met them before and b) they didn't know anything about our pack and c) all they did was tell "war stories" of things they'd done/seen/survived. Which wasn't what we needed at the time.

 

So I've about given up on the UCs. We probably have a few real gems of UCs in our district but I would never, ever, count on the commissioner corp to accomplish anything of note in our district, because it just wouldn't happen.

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"some guy in the back of the room, whom no one could identify - he didn't approach anyone either but that's how I found out who he was)."

and

"If we ever really had a problem"

 

If the troop lets some guy stand in the back of the room and doesn't approch him I'd say you do realy have a problem.

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Wingnut, you misunderstand - or I wasn't clear, more likely. He did NOT approach us. We certainly DID approach him. No, we don't allow random people to hang out at our troop meetings. My point was, this guy certainly didn't seem to feel a need to make himself well known to us - which I found pretty odd, actually. He just showed up one day. Some checking up revealed that he was indeed who he said he was, and that yes, he had been assigned to us as our UC. But it hardly instilled confidence in the commissioner corp as a whole, since even our DC - to whom this guy answers - initially told us we just didn't have a UC.

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First, he was invisible.

 

Then, he was gone ... relocated to the Carolinas.

 

We have no UC at this time, and the ADC hasn't been out to see us either.

 

Frankly, the system is designed to work, but if we don't pull on our oar, the boat doesn't get very far.

 

Frustrating.

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Yah, 'tis a sad thing.

 

I ustah be a council commish. I think the hardest thing is that volunteers are hard to come by, and good ones are usually better placed as unit leaders and assistant unit leaders, where their impact on the kids can be better. What's left are retired SM's mostly, but they can be the "war story" bunch. Plus, it's often hard for an ex-SM to switch to a commish. He's used to bein' in charge, eh? And he's usually only got experience with his own troop's way of doin' things; he doesn't really have a "repertoire" of experience to help different units. Dat's a challenge for other district positions, too. And then Cub leaders make poor troop UC's and vice versa, IMO, which is another challenge.

 

Me, I just triaged things. Units that were doing OK got a yearly visit from a DC; units that weren't got assigned to a small service team of 3 folks to help. That way we had "backup" and a sense of teamwork, rather than expectin' a UC to play lone ranger. Worked OK, but not great; hardest was formin' and keepin' good 3-person service teams. Since then, I reckon things have gotten even sparser in many councils.

 

But we did have a few gems, who did the job well.

 

Yah, no question about it overall, though. In most places the district/council falls down on providin' its end of the Charter Agreement in terms of unit support, and commissioner corps where it exists at all is a kinda odd Old Boys group.

 

Beavah

 

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Is our UC competent? Probably. Is he overworked? Definitely.

 

I don't know him well. I haven't seen him at a pack meeting/function in about a year. I don't know how many units he is responsible for, but there is at least one other that is having issues that not only is he dealing with, but the DE has been called in to help keep the unit going.

 

As a result, I'm not well versed in the Commissioner program and how it works. I do know that when a new pack was formed last October, they were left on their own to figure it out and they are only surviving through the dedication of the CM, who was a scout in his youth and is committed to making the experience good for his son. I suspect this pack shares our UC, but I'm not sure.

 

On the flip side, when a new pack was formed a couple of weeks ago, our CC offered to mentor them. He has been officially made the UC of that pack and is trying to get them on their feet. That new pack wouldn't exist unless the parents knew that there was someone to support them in that capacity because none of them have much scout experience.

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Of course, to look at this from the flip side, I am currently a unit commisioner with two units. I try to get acquainted with them and it's like pulling teeth. It would be nice if they would include me on their e-mail listing and let me know when their meetings are so I could visit them, instead of me calling and asking when their meetings are. Don't know if this is a common problem or not, it seems like many units don't even know what a unit commissioner is, or want one. Of course, with the statements of lack of service that have been posted, who can blame them.

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So how competent is your UC?

 

Hmmmm, you mean the unshaven guy with the rumpled shirt and sweat pants? AntelopeDud says he is MIA, but I do remember seeing him a total of one time when he was there to get recharter work from AD.

 

Given his appearance, that is the only time I really want to see him around our unit. I couldn't imagine him doing a uniform inspection.

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Yea, Jr56, building that relationship with the unit can be difficult can't it. This is more difficult if the unit has not had a good relationship with a UC before and even worse if a bad relationship has existed. I wouldn't expect to get on any email lists until that relationship is well established and that can take many months. Until then, keep calling and notifying before your visits. I suggest always making your unit visits worthwhile for the unit leaders. Bring copies of the flyers from roundtable and other news of what's happening in the district. Always see if there is something you can find out about for the unit, then follow up with the answer.

 

It takes awhile, but you need to get the unit to think that good things occur when you show up, not that your just one more annoyance. You need to work your way into becoming that units' go to person for questions. It doesn't matter whether you know the answers or not, but whether you can get the answer in a timely manner.

 

How are the units doing with the Centennial Quality Unit award? It's time for them to assess where they're at. How's their recruiting coming. Are they having trouble retaining boys. Any luck getting more parental involvement? UCs should be posing these questions to the units now so that any necessary adjustments can be made. Coming with resources on how the unit may accomplish these goals is helpful.

 

A lot of units will be doing their annual planning soon. Perhaps the units you're assigned to serve have had problems with that in the past. Perhaps bringing some resources in for that would be helpful.

 

If you're not, get yourself trained. If you don't have the Commissioner's fieldbook, get it. Get some of the other commissioner resources too. Check out the commissioners web site at http://www.scouting.org/commissioners/

 

Good luck,

SWScouter

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