A Primer on Getting Involved with Local Government by Candace J. Kay Andersen
Over the past 25 years I've had the opportunity to serve as a Mayor, City Councilmember, County Supervisor and sit on over 40 boards, commissions and committees in local government in California. I am sometimes asked how a nice Mormon mother of six ended up in a place like this.
I graduated from BYU with a degree in Public Policy in 1982 and the J. Reuben Clark Law School in 1985. My husband Phil (JRCLS, 1984) and I started our family and I worked part-time as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in my hometown of Honolulu,
Later that year I was appointed to two Morgan Hill City Commissions, and two years later I was appointed to the Morgan Hill City Council to fill a vacancy. Right when it was time to run for my seat, my husband got a great job offer that took us to another amazing part of the Bay Area, the town of Danville. Our last two children were born and I continued to volunteer in the community — with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, in my children's schools, at church, and at our local museum. My philosophy always has been: you don't need to be the Mayor or a City Councilmember, you just help where you are needed.
Why participate in local government?
Serving on a Commission, City Council or as a County Supervisor provides you with the opportunity to shape the future of the community in which you live. Decisions regarding public safety, housing, land use, parks, recreation, transportation, economic development, and how to best spend local tax dollars are made on the city level.
In California, County Supervisors do the same for unincorporated areas outside city limits but also oversee much more including all of the health and welfare services, workforce development, child and adult protection, mental health, district attorney, public defender, probation, jails, libraries, tax assessment and collection, elections, emergency, environmental health, agriculture, and hazardous materials services. Serving in local government provides the opportunity to help solve serious problems and improve the lives of those living among you.
How do you get involved?
I'm often asked where to start. Stay current on issues in your community. In this era of digital media, regularly read online local news outlets. If available, subscribe to and read weekly or monthly papers. Read the local section of your daily newspaper in print or online. Social media sites such as NextDoor and Facebook often discuss relevant community matters.
Familiarize yourself with your City’s website. Regularly check City Council, Planning, or Parks Commission agendas for upcoming items of interest to you. Look for meetings, events or activities you might like to attend. Many city council or commission meetings are televised or streamed on the internet.
Decide upon an area in which you would like to be involved. Identify your leadership abilities, many of which have been cultivated through your professional career, church callings, or other volunteer work. Decide upon what is the best fit for you based upon your interests, skills, talents, or hobbies.
Serving in the community can be as time consuming as you want it to be. Most commissions meet just one or two evenings a month, but there may be sub-committee meetings, on-site visits, and meeting preparation. Discuss with your spouse and family how much time you can realistically commit. Then start looking at available opportunities. Counties and cities all have boards and commissions made up of citizen volunteers. Watch for openings on websites and in city or county publications.
Call your City or County Clerk and find out about future vacancies:
Don't hesitate to set up a meeting with your Mayor or a City Councilmember to talk about opportunities to help out in the community. They are elected to represent you and welcome the chance to meet with their constituents, especially someone who is asking how to help.
Participate in a community Leadership Class:
Many cities, Chambers of Commerce or community groups offer Leadership Classes. These often include a one year curriculum with participants meeting monthly as a group to learn more about the various aspects of the community and local government. Through these classes you will develop a better understanding of how your local government operates in conjunction with other community groups. You will develop friendships with leaders and others already involved in the community.
Serve your community in other ways:
Doyle, who served with the "Candy Bomber"
Gail Halversen in the Berlin Airlift
Participate at a Commission or City Council Meeting when topics of interest are discussed:
If you choose to attend a meeting and speak on behalf or in opposition to an issue, you generally are given only two to three minutes to get your point across. There is always a civil, factual way to get your opinion across that is much more effective than being critical. President Gordon B. Hinckley once said:
“… Teach those for whom you are responsible the importance of good civic manners. Encourage them to become involved, remembering in public deliberations that the quiet voice of substantive reasoning is more persuasive than the noisy, screaming voice of protest. In accepting such responsibilities our people will bless their communities, their families, and the Church” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 131).
Don’t hesitate to contact elected representatives before a meeting. Unlike a court that limits ex parte communications, elected officials are trying to gather community input to make their decisions. They often have tentative decisions made up before they get to a council, board meeting or hearing, and it's better to talk to them early on while their opinion is still being formed. Most welcome those discussions.
Take time to communicate positive comments to your local officials when you see them doing something right. A quick email thanking your mayor or a councilmember for their actions, or for a recent vote is always appreciated. Become part of the solution to community problems. Don't just complain from the sidelines.
Get involved in an election:
The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides some good perspective on why we should be involved in elections:
I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil. Doctrine and Covenants 98:8-1.
of Supervisors by Retired Congressman George Miller,
with fellow supervisors Diane Burgis and Federal Glover,
Consider running for office yourself or encourage other qualified individuals to do so. The chances of being successful are greater if the candidate is already known in the community through appointed positions or other involvement in the community. Having a base of supporters familiar with the person is critical.
Most importantly, vote. Each election year, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged in a letter which is read over the pulpit, to be engaged. In 2016 an excerpt from the letter read: As citizens we have the privilege and duty of electing office holders and influencing public policy. Participation in the political process affects our communities and nation today and in the future. We urge Latter-day Saints to be active citizens by registering, exercising their right to vote, and engaging in civic affairs. This is great advice, and I am often surprised to find that friends, neighbors, or people with whom I attend church are not registered to vote, or have failed to re-register after moving into a new home. They forfeit one of the most important rights we have as citizens.
Getting involved in elections and engaging in civic affairs does much to influence public policy and shape the future of the communities in which we live. It is a fulfilling way to use the education, training, talent, and experience developed over a lifetime. It is also a lot of fun.
By Candace J. Kay Andersen
Posted: January 27, 2017