I occasionally feel like Mr. Bean looks when it comes to deciding whose box to check on the ballot. Let me share some thoughts on what I believe is important based on having served nearly four years on the Highland City council.
Elections are about selecting candidates for office who have good character, sound judgment, and base decisions on core principles that are aligned with yours. It is less about how a particular candidate stands on a specific issue. When I ran for city council there were a couple of things I was concerned about:
How we were managing road maintenance.
- How the city communicated with residents (both listening and sharing).
Since I’ve been elected I’ve spent time on both issues and progress has been made. However, those issues have not consumed the bulk of the time I spend on city issues. I could not have predicted the range of issues which arose nor the degree of passion that residents had about them. I’ve responded to hundreds of emails and the council has listened to numerous residents who were passionate about issues such as:
- Whether or not to revise a zone to allow a two story office building.
- Whether or not to allow a developer to put in an open fence rather than a masonry wall.
- Where to locate, or rather not locate, a new park maintenance building.
- How to resolve issues related to trails that were constructed outside easement boundaries.
- What to do about dangerous intersections.
- The selling price of Open Space parcels.
- Whether to approve a conditional use permit for town homes.
- Utility rates.
- Property tax or fee to help pay for roads
It seems every couple of months a new issue arises that generates significant interest from some group.
When we elect someone to office we really need to understand their thought process. For me it is less important whether I agree with the position a candidate has on a specific issue than I understand how the candidate arrived there. Other issues will come up and if I want to influence the actions of an elected official I need to understand:
What principles will be used in making decisions? If I agree with the principles used then I don’t care as much whether we agree on a specific issue.
How much time is he or she willing to spend on research? I want people in office who are willing to take the time to become informed on critical issues. No one is an expert on everything.
Is the candidate willing to listen? What modes of communication can I use to reach him (in person, email, phone, texting, Facebook …)? I don’t expect people to agree with me 100% of the time (I might want that) but I do expect elected officials to be willing to listen. Note, while it may sound nice for candidates to say I will support the will of my constituents, but I am not sure how elected officials determine what the “will” is. We can’t talk to everyone. Polls aren’t perfect. Everyone doesn’t have the same level of expertise on specific issues. Experts don’t always agree anyway. Constituents disagree, sometimes vehemently, on issues.
Is the candidate willing to advocate for positions which may not be popular? I might not agree with someone initially but this does not mean I can’t be persuaded. In the process of advocating for a cause, our positions are either strengthened or weakened as we learn new information. It is the process of advocating for a cause that provides an opportunity for learning. Of course, bi-directional learning only occurs when both stay focused on the issue at hand and not a specific position, are willing to listen and don’t take personal shots or act condescending.
It is also important to understand that there are some matters that come before elected officials where they are legally constrained in their actions regardless of what they might want to do. It is important for those who hold elected office to understand what level of discretion they have, as misusing their authority can create significant liabilities.
With this in mind my best wishes to everyone as they to go through the process of selecting candidates they will support this election cycle. You may also want to read Questions for Candidates.