Politics. Politics in social media. Politics in mainstream media. Politics at our kitchen tables. Dare I say, politics at our holiday gatherings. It seems we cannot start our day or end our day without a recap of what our elected officials at the federal or state levels have or have not accomplished for the people. Every election cycle, we pin our hopes on that someone who will make the change, turn the tide, and extend the hand across the aisle to get things moving. However, the outcome seems to be too often the same. Two sides cannot come together to agree on what is best for the people who elected them. The days of compromise are gone, and lines drawn in the sand are long and strong.
So who do we turn to when it feels like government is just too big to listen to our concerns? Where can we see issues being addressed daily, weekly and monthly? Where we all have a voice that connects us with the issues we face on a regular basis? We turn to local government.
Our local governments, the mayor, city council members, and members of boards and commission are responsible for short-term and long-term planning in our communities. They set the vision and strategic plans aimed to ensure the success of our communities. Elected officials at the local levels are our friends, neighbors and co-workers, who want what is best for our community. You engage them at restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, parks, and at community events. You can also share your voice with them at city council meetings, board meetings, at home and on the phone or even in your back yard – directly! Imagine the influence you have on issues that directly impact your life when you can speak face-to-face with the key decision makers.
How do local officials set their agenda? Local elected officials and appointed board members work to prevent or resolve issues that affect their neighborhoods, their schools or local businesses. They seek the opinions of others, listen to their constituents and discuss ideas on how to best prevent or fix a problem, better communicate on an issue or plan for growth in their city. They may see a need for better quality lakes, more recreational opportunities, better budget management, or for more job opportunities. They debate issues in public at workshops, board meetings and bi-weekly council meetings. When views are different, they work to compromise with no party lines to cross, no lines in the sand.
In our city of Wyoming, we want to hear from our residents. At each meeting, we allow residents three minutes to address the City Council or board on items not on our agenda. We also allow comments from residents during our meeting when discussing agenda items. We hold public hearings, publish our email addresses and yes, even give out our personal phone numbers. We have open door policies at City Hall, so you can speak with city staff members. Local elected officials work hard at seeing all sides of the issues, good or bad, making decisions that are best for the whole community. We know we can’t please all the people all the time; however, we know we directly impact most of the people all the time.
I get asked many times why I would want to be an elected local official. My answer is always the same: It is the best and quickest way to positively affect the impact of government policy on residents and businesses in my community. If you are reading this, I urge you to speak up, become involved and strive to have an impact on the community where you live and improve the quality of life for everyone in your city.
Lisa Iverson is the mayor of Wyoming.