With Christmas just two weeks away, and the New Year just three, it’s unlikely that a run for local office is on your mind. It should be. This is the time to really think about whether you want to run for office, and if you’re currently serving, it’s a good time to consider whether you want to continue.
Before you know it, the calendar will flip from December to January, and there will be fewer than five months until most town elections on the Island.
We would love to see some fresh blood infused into town governments on the Island. Too often, when elected officials stick around for long periods of time, they get entrenched and lose some of the reasoning behind why they ran for office in the first place. So it’s a good time to reflect on whether this position you’ve held for several years — maybe decades — is still a good fit. Deep institutional knowledge can be helpful at times, but it can also be a hindrance to moving forward and adapting to the change that’s needed to make progress.
If you find yourself saying, We do it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it, this might be the year that you decide to call it quits and pass the torch to a new generation. On your way out, how about helping to discover and encourage some new blood to get involved?
There are a lot of issues facing the Island, none as pressing as the lack of housing. There are a lot of people working on the issue, including the Island Housing Trust, Habitat for Humanity, and others, but there also needs to be the political will to actually move forward by presenting innovative ideas, making zoning changes, and getting beyond the mentality of how things have always been done.
What does it take to be a selectman? A willingness to work collaboratively with other town leaders, look at issues objectively, and make decisions that may not be popular with everyone — even some of your neighbors — but that are ultimately are for the greater good. One minute you might be making a decision on the fate of a beloved pear tree, and the next minute you could be deciding a multimillion-dollar project.
Not cut out for the top job? How about the school committee, where you can make policy decisions that will help guide the education of your community’s children?
Have an interest in zoning and building issues? You can run for the planning board, where you can help shape the town’s planning and community development.
Take some time and attend the meetings of the board you may be interested in, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Understand that this job you are volunteering for won’t come with any big payday, will at times be thankless, but will give you an opportunity to share your skills in shaping your community’s future.
The crazy reality is that people are often far more engaged in national and statewide politics than they are in local government, where they can really make a difference.
Make this the year where you put thinking globally and acting locally into practice. Stop by the town clerk’s office, find out which offices are up for election this spring, check out who the incumbent is sitting in the seat you’re interested in, and talk to your friends and neighbors about whether they would support a run for office.
And as voters, let’s make this the year we push our leaders to answer questions about specific issues, so we know where they stand and we can make an informed decision when we go to the polls.