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Tara Jacobs: Governor’s Council — an awareness campaign

As a candidate for Governor’s Council District 8 — which encompasses 102 cities and towns across the four counties of Western Massachusetts, as well as a few towns in Worcester County — I have discovered that my campaign has centered on educating and spreading awareness.

Remarkably, few voters have heard of the Governor’s Council, and even fewer know what the council does. Yet it’s one of the most important and impactful roles in 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 chair of the council. They are responsible for a long list of key decisions that impact our commonwealth and communities both directly and indirectly.

While the council performs a number of specific advice and consent roles as a constitutional check and balance to the executive branch, foremost on the list is the confirmation of judges to the bench. From District to Superior to the Supreme Judicial Court and all the commonwealth’s courts, all nominations for judgeships must be confirmed by the council.

The second-most important, in my view, is confirming the nominations of members to the Parole Board.

Judges matter. Who sits on the bench, their character and qualifications, matters. And in our state, where our judicial systems’ racial disparities rank among the highest in the nation, it is more important than ever that those who represent us on the Governor’s Council are actively working to shift these injustices.

Why is this role so little understood?

In the many months that I have spent campaigning for this role, during which so many voters have told me that they have never heard of the Governor’s Council, this question has been top of mind. And I have some ideas on how to increase awareness of the work of this very important body.

On your ballots — and sample ballots are already traveling to mailboxes across Western Massachusetts — the role of Governor’s Council is not actually labeled as such. Instead, ballots present the list of candidates under the ambiguous word “councillor.” It might explain why so few can recall voting for the Governor’s Council when the actual words don’t appear on the ballot, despite appearing on both primary and general election ballots every two years. This would be a simple fix that would help better connect voters to the office.

Another reason contributing to the challenge is the lack of transparency that cloaks the Governor’s Council.

Interestingly, the council is not subject to the commonwealth’s open meeting law, as specified in Massachusetts General Law Chapter 30A. And even after working through the challenges of COVID-19, the council resisted the presence of cameras in the room during their sessions. The availability of recordings of council proceedings must be maintained, and the behavior and positions of Councilors must be a matter of public record.

Representation matters. Those who are elected to represent us matter. Members of the Governor’s Council must take responsibility for bringing an account of their actions to the public.

We are all affected daily by the decisions made by our elected representatives, 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.

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