That’s the way an old friend from Texas who once enjoyed a successful career as a political consultant would tell it. These successful men would pay her a visit, seeking the advice of a pro before launching a bid for a city council or county commission seat. My friend would invite the would-be politician into her office. She’d pull out a yellow legal pad and commence an informal interview, which would go something like this.
Her: So, what office are you seeking?
Him: I was thinking about running for city council.
Her: That’s fine. Well, tell me about your issues. What do you want to do on the city council?
Him: I want to outlaw all abortions in the United States.
At this point, my friend the political consultant would put down her pen and look up from her notes. That’s not the sort of thing city councils do, she’d tell the man. If abortion policy is your passion, you’ll need to seek a different office, she’d say. (By the way, it’s at this point in the retelling of this tale that my friend would smile and remind me that she no longer consulted political candidates.)
The central truth is that city councils and other elected local government bodies don’t make sweeping national policies. Their sandbox is much smaller than, say, Congress or a state legislature. However, city councils perform tasks that are no less important. The high impact tasks on their to-do list are impressive and include:
• Public safety, including the budgeting of fire and police departments. Nobody wants their community to be less safe.
• Zoning and the establishment of development guidelines. Mess up the proper spacing between residences, highways, industries and retail outlets, and it won’t be a secret very long.
• Economic development. No city is ever finished developing its economy. Cities are either working to attract new businesses with high-paying jobs or they are losing ground. If a city is standing still, it’s falling behind.
• Education. Quality public schools perform two essential functions. 1. Produce the well-educated workforce a city needs to continue smartly growing. 2. Attract new residents who long to see their children receive top-notch schooling. Politicians selling their city to outsiders will inevitably be asked, “So, how are the schools?” The answer makes all the difference. The United States Conference of Mayors says it right: “If schools don’t work, the city does not work.”
• Quality of life. This goes hand-in-hand with economic development. A council has a better chance of recruiting industries and people if the city is full of parks, museums, art spaces, athletic venues, cultural events and the like. City politicians can’t make all that happen by themselves, but they can clear a path.
This last point has been repeatedly raised as The Star has sponsored community discussions on its project on the state’s growing obesity crisis. We are calling the series Our Big Problem.
Miriam Gaines, director of the state Obesity Task Force who attended last month’s Our Big Problem community conversation, stressed that cities can make a big impact in tackling their local obesity problem by encouraging residents to eat healthier and get more exercise. That’s the real power of local policy, the sort that can bring progress to a city.
The men and women running in the Aug. 28 municipal elections have an opportunity to present a clear case for what they will do if the voting turns in their favor. Candidate filing started last week and concludes a week from Tuesday.
We look forward to hearing their plans.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or email@example.com. Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis