Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bill's Top 5 Reasons NOT to Run for Local Office


By Bill Gouveia


            Last week this space discussed a list of reasons why you should consider serving as an elected or appointed town official. Now it’s time to turn to the dark side.


            While I am personally a huge advocate of getting involved in your local government, there are solid reasons why people generally don’t.  Some are a reflection of our times and society today.  Others are simply the price you pay for taking the initiative and having the grit to be a direct participant.


            So in the interest of fairness and presenting both sides, I now offer you “Bill’s Top Five Reasons Not To Serve As A Local Elected or Appointed Official”.  Please note, the reasons stated do not necessarily reflect the personal opinions of this particular opinion columnist.  Having said that, here goes:


1.    It takes a lot of your valuable time.  No matter what elected or appointed post you might choose to seek, you have to understand it requires serious effort.  Obviously, the depth of commitment varies with the position.  As an elected town moderator today, the demand on my attention is far less than when I served as a selectman or finance committee member.  But not everyone does it the same way.  Some manage their efforts more efficiently than others, and the existing political climate at the time you serve is a crucial factor.  These are far from full-time positions, but if you aren’t prepared to devote at least some serious time to them – stay away.


2.    You will be severely criticized no matter what you do.  If your skin is on the thin side, local government probably isn’t for you.  People will openly question your honesty and integrity without even knowing you personally.  You can easily become judged by your last vote rather than your consistent efforts at governing.  Those who support you are likely to do so quietly, while those opposing you and your opinions and actions tend to be louder.  It is easier to be against things others do than to actually do them yourself, so real leaders are usually the easiest targets.



3.    It is frustrating.  If you are a logical person, town government can be a very frustrating thing.  The rules governing local governments are often conflicting, nonsensical, and just plain dumb.  They often are in direct contradiction of standard business practices, because despite what some may say – you can’t run a town like a business.  There are methods and practices used with great success every day in most private firms that are simply not allowed in the public sector.  It is often enough to make good and capable people throw up their hands in disgust and walk away.


4.    It doesn’t always project the best personal image.  There was a time when being a local official was something the public at large greatly respected and appreciated.  While that should still be true today, far too often we fail to give our local officials the benefit of the doubt.   We often seem to assume the worst.  Whenever a tough decision is made by a board or committee, many believe it a given the individual members were improperly swayed by political (or other) considerations granted by those on the “winning” side.  Your claims of simply trying to serve your community and do the right thing are often met with snickering.  Being even a local politician has somehow become a bad thing in this cynical world.



5.    If you do your job well, you stand a good chance of losing it.  There is no more self-defeating part-time position in the world than being a good local leader.  Often there is no true success or failure, only survival or extinction.  Sure, there are those who defy the odds and serve long periods of time while maintaining their independence against the ever-changing tides of public opinion.  But in general, local government is all about compromise.  When you make the tough decisions, you take the tough hits.  Some of us are just better at that than others.


So now we’ve discussed both the pros and cons of holding local office.  In the end, it’s all about trying to make a difference.  How do you do it?  That’s up to you.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook

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