In May, voters in Malheur County will be looking for 84 good people to help oversee local governments. These unpaid public servants will decide how schools should be run, the best way to provide fire protection and how to keep up local cemeteries and rural roads.
Why shouldn’t you be one of those 84?
Running for local elective office isn’t challenging. It doesn’t cost much. Most people never spend a dime on a campaign. It doesn’t take much time. Most people get elected to local boards by simply filling out a little paperwork and appearing on the ballot. And it doesn’t demand you be an expert on the particular agency, such as a school district.
In too many elections, seats on local boards and councils draw no candidates. Not one person steps up, raises a hand, and says, “I’ll help.” The Jordan Valley City Council, for instance, had two such races last fall. Voters had no choices on the ballot, so they had to write in their own. Essentially, voters drafted from among themselves people they thought could be useful as councilors.
We can, we should, do better in this process. After all, a local government board in some ways is just a gathering of local citizens sitting around a table, kicking around the issues of the day, and agreeing what to do about them. Our communities need more people willing to pull up a seat at that table. From that chair, you can influence what happens with your tax money and with your government. You go from being concerned to being active about those concerns. You carry the ideas and worries of your friends and neighbors in a way you might be able to do something about them.
You might think you’re not qualified. If you vote, you qualify. Don’t worry about being an expert on taxation or government budgets or about labor practices. If you have such expertise, that’s more the reason to raise your hand. But if you don’t, those who already serve on the boards and the employees serving those boards will be generous with orienting you. They will be glad to have you, rest assured. You will have plenty of chances to get up to speed, and in turn you become a tutor for others in the community.
You might think you don’t have the time. Hardly a person in the area would say they have too much time on their hands. But board service typically requires a once-a-month meeting. There may be a committee or two as well. But out of an entire month, most people could find roughly eight to 10 hours to serve their community.
On the local level, there is no such creature as “the government.” We can all be too quick to criticize some faceless “the government” for seemingly poor decisions. Yet, with our schools, our fire halls, our cemeteries, “the government” is us – those people gathered around that table deciding how to spend tax money, what services to offer, which programs to start or stop. One individual, thoughtful and attentive, can be effective at fashioning that government.
If you still wonder whether you should raise your hand this election, talk to some of those already serving. Yes, you’ll hear frustrations. But many will tell you that serving the community from these seats can be rewarding. You won’t get rich – there is no pay. You won’t become famous – there is little attention given these public offices. You will find satisfaction, though, in knowing you answered the democratic call to help govern our community. Why not make this the year you say yes? — LZ