Small Town Politics: Should I Run For Office?

The series Small Town Politics examines campaigning and political service in Utah’s smaller municipalities and counties.

The filing period for mayoral and city council races is fast approaching. With filing open from June 1st to June 8th, many are beginning to ask themselves:

Should I Run for Office?

The answer: YES!

I believe everyone should participate at some time in their life in civic service.  It is a great experience, and a growing one as well.

But the real question is not, should I run?  The real question is: Which office should I run for and when?

Which Office Should I Run For?

It is important to understand the role of the each office and the part they play in governance.

Before you run for a city council, regularly attend meetings to become familiar with: how the council functions, the officials currently serving, what issues come before the council, and the budget process.  If you are not interested in water, sewers, and roads, than city council may not be right for you.  If instead you are intrigued by curriculum, assessments, and property development you may be more fit to be a school board than a city council.

There are a myriad of locally elected officials: city council members, mayors, commissioners, school boards members, county officials.  Not every office is right for every person.

If you have decided you are interested in running for the city council, but have never attended a meeting, it may be better to take a pause this time and take two years to prepare for the next election cycle.

During that time apply for positions within the city on the planning commission, or the parks board, or the citizen’s technology committee, or whatever else interests you.  These assignments will help you not only learn how the city is functioning, but will increase your credibility when you decide to run.  Additionally, the networking that happens while serving on these types of boards will also increase your chances of being elected. – and if you run, you want to get elected.

When should I run for office?

Deciding to run should be a thoughtful and deliberate decision.  Public service is a huge time commitment.  Most city councils meet twice a month, but members also serve in additional capacities.  Becoming informed on issues that will come before the city council also takes an investment of time and energy.  The commitment is doable, but it is a real commitment.  Get your family on board.

In addition to formal responsibilities, every mayor and city council member will tell you – you are always on.  This means you need to be prepared to discuss pot holes, sewer problems, and recreation programs anytime, anywhere.  A quick trip to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things will become significantly more involved, as you are called upon to describe how sales tax distribution affects your city while in the produce section finding bananas.  Also, understand that at church you will be asked to explain city policy more often than gospel doctrine.  This reality is healthy, as a public servant you are answerable to the public, everywhere and all the time.

If current personal or professional commitments in your life make the above difficult or uncomfortable, you may want to wait until your circumstances change.

One more consideration: Political Timing

Political timing is key.  A race against a well-known incumbent is much different from a race for an open seat.  Consider the dynamics of the race before jumping in so you are prepared for them.

It’s not now or never

Opportunities come and go.  But when the time is right – then RUN!


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