School, city races are important

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Another sign of spring is the municipal and school board elections that fall on the first Tuesday in April. This year, there are a number of contested races among candidates seeking to serve their cities and schools. Often times, voter turnout for these elections are low, and it shouldn't be that way. These positions are extremely important, because our locally elected leaders guide the direction of the schools that serve thousands of young people across the county as well as the cities that provide vital services, such as water and sewer, police and city parks, to area residents. Individuals who serve on school boards and city councils are in charge of spending the taxes we pay, and it's important we pay attention to who will be making those decisions.

To help you make an informed decision, the Cassville Democrat is continuing its tradition of providing candidate questionnaires for contested races across the county. These appear on pages 21 and 22 of this week's paper. A complete ballot is also published on page 23.

Before next Tuesday, we hope you'll take the time to read the candidates' responses to the questions we asked them to answer. If you still want more information about who to vote for, contact the candidates directly. If anyone is irritated or taken off guard by your questions, then they probably aren't the candidate you want in office. In my estimation, one of the essential qualities of a good elected official is someone who is approachable and serving on behalf of his or her constituents.

There are several other qualities that I believe an elected official should possess. I have come up with this list after two decades of covering city council and school board meetings, and observing these men and women at work. So if you are looking for a little guidance, here is my list of what makes a good school board member or city council member.

* Is the candidate running to serve the best interests of the community or school as a whole rather than promoting a personal agenda? In the case of a school board member, it's important they understand the importance of all aspects of the school system, including academics, athletics and extracurricular activities.

* Does the candidate have a business or financial background? Some of the best city council members I have ever encountered were business owners themselves and had a good understanding of budgets and were fiscally responsible with taxpayers' money.

* Is the individual open minded? Narrow-mindedness is not a good attribute in someone who is elected to serve a wide variety of constituents. Progress is often contingent on a group's ability to research different alternatives for growth and brainstorm for new ways to fix old problems. Those who insist on maintaining the status quo are often left behind.

* Does the candidate listen? Anyone who holds an elected office must be accessible to the general public. They must be willing to listen to people's opinions and ideas -- that's just part of being a public servant.

* Does the individual play well with others? Not all decisions made by school boards and city councils are unanimous. It's important that people serving in these positions are able to discuss issues openly and compromise when necessary.

Now that I've offered you some of my ideas on what makes a good school board or city council member, I hope you'll take time to do your homework and pick the right candidate for your school or town. More than anything, I hope you plan to take that first step of community involvement by going to the polls and voting next Tuesday.

Lisa Schlichtman