I’ve spent the last decade training newly elected local government officials on the ins and outs of governing, and leading them through strategic planning processes. I always start with asking why they chose to run for office. The answer is almost always one of the following:
I have also never heard “I want to run a murky, withdrawn, locked, suppressive, tyrannical government”. Yet, the moment most local government elected officials take office we, the public, immediately see them as corrupt or on the take.
Please don’t get me wrong. This does not mean that there are not a lot of egocentric individuals in local government. There are A LOT! My rose-colored glasses may be on, but I do truly believe that most people, even when driven by ego, enter local government for reasons that most of us would uphold as valid and maybe even honorable.
There is good reason for this shift in public sentiment after election day. If your feelings about politics and politicians are driven by what is happening at a global or national level, your feelings are well placed. Democracy in America is breaking. Faith in federal government is shattering. National level politicians are, well. . .
Is the person that runs for mayor, or city council, a “politician” or are they a public servant? Are they responding to their partisan beliefs or their desire to better their community?
The reality is that becoming a public figure is hard. Suddenly, you are expected to solve problems that over which you have no control. A newly elected official literally has zero personal control over any issue even though they’ve been handed the power of the people. Why? Because it requires that the majority of the other elected officials agree with you. You may have won because a group of people supported you on a specific issue, but suddenly the things you must think about or decide on are far beyond the issue that brought you to run in the first place.
“Why can’t we just talk about potholes?!” says the newly elected official.
Here is suggestion to each and every one of you. Support these people that you elevated to local office. Assume the best of them, even when you don’t like the decisions they make. Trust that they really want what is best for your community. Know that they don’t have all of the answers. They may not have all the information they need, nor the expertise. Hopefully they stop talking and start listening, gather information, education themselves, and begin to make informed decisions.
At the end of the day, if you are unhappy with what they are doing, get involved! Show up at meetings. Express what you want. Respond to surveys. Attend community meetings. Speak up. If you are still unsatisfied. . .run for office!
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