Anita Stech is an Institute member and the owner of Cut Loose Creations, a company that turns old tee shirts into stylish clothes and accessories. In 2011, she participated in the Institute’s Civility Workshop held in Duluth, MN. And as a member of the Pilgrim Congregational Church Social Justice Ministry, she has worked with the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation’s “Speak Your Peace” initiative to create “Civility Certified” community forums and debates.
Every once in a while I cross paths with a woman I supported in a recent local election. Now an elected local official, she tells me how much work there is to the job. For every government meeting, council or committee, she receives and reads pages and pages of background material. She gets multiple contacts each day from constituents and those wishing to influence her thoughts and votes on various issues. She researches issues and city actions. We discuss how much more there is to serving in office than running to serve, and I thank her for her work.
The election cycles never seem to end. The constant ads and solicitations unfortunately draw attention to the contests rather than the work our elected officials have been selected to do. Even with a four year term, thinking of how to conduct and fund the next election is always in the back of an official’s mind.
There have been some pretty harsh attacks on our local officials lately. School board meetings have drawn a crowd of people who have not been shy in vocally criticizing the members, personal attacks and threats included; a movement is afoot to recall a city councilor. Even civility itself, when under discussion at a school board meeting, was attacked as a “sham” and a “joke” by a sitting school board member.
This may be “newsworthy” stuff, but it draws attention from the work of governing. And governing is what is important.
So here is a thought for those of us who vote: attend a local government meeting – city council, school board, or county commission.
Attend the government meeting not because you want something from the councilors, board members, or commissioners, but to simply show support for the work we as a community have asked them to do.
And attend the meetings to learn more about how things work. Moving an idea from your head to something a city, county, or school board can consider takes a lot of work. Ask staff how a proposed idea might move through the system.
Any elected official knows that part of the job is to listen to everyone – the noisy ones included. But it might be nice to be reminded every once in a while that there are lots of others who are interested in the work of governing, and who appreciate those who work so hard to be part of a governing body that fixes streets, educates students and takes care of those in need.
Be that reminder. Attend a government meeting.
Note: to learn the time and location of government meetings in your area, check the “Government” section in your telephone book, or search the web for the town, county, or school board name. For example: “Duluth Minnesota City Council”.