Importance of Local Government, Today and Everyday
Have you ever wondered why you more often than not get stuck at the same red light in town? Or, how in the world your friend down a few streets has better broadband (internet) service than you? If you have not had those specific thoughts, surely you have wondered why the taxes you pay differ from the taxes paid just across County or City lines. The answer to all of these questions (and more) can be found within the halls of your municipal building, more commonly known as Town Hall.
Now, one way to put local government into perspective is to think back to the Gilmore Girls episodes in which the town attends a town hall meeting (if you have never watched any of these episodes I would encourage you to check one out on YouTube). The room is full of residents invested in their town and wanting to voice their opinions. Believe it or not, each public meeting your City/Town Council or County Board of Supervisors has the public is allotted a time to speak. How cool is that? You are able to express any concern or bring any exciting happenings to the local leader’s attention at least once a month! In order to get the most out of where you live it is important to understand which municipality you live in and how the locality functions.
I work for a mid-sized County in Virginia with roughly 56,000 residents represented by seven Board Members who are elected based on districts. This means each of the Board Members has specific constituents within the County. These Board Members are elected to serve four-year terms and must be residents of the district in which they represent. The Board meets monthly to conduct the business of the County. My County also has a County Administrator who is appointed by the Board of Supervisors. He/she serves at the “pleasure of the Board” and is a professional in the field of local government. The County Administrator performs the day-to-day activities of the County and ensures County Staff performs what is requested by the Board.
County Staff, like the County Administrator are professionals and work to prepare the best recommendation on a given topic to present to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. It is at that point the elected officials (Board Members) decide how the County will move forward. Staff’s position is that of neutrality, always serving the County in its best interest. As the County Board of Supervisors are the men and women who make the ultimate decisions for the County it is so important, they are representative of the citizens they serve. A single Board Member vote can be the difference between a change in local ordinance that allows music to be played at all hours of the night or a decision that does not allow any Airbnbs in the area.
The last few months have really put the responsibilities of local government into perspective for us as we saw City Councils vote to reallocate funding and/or choose to adopt Ordinances requiring the use of personal protective equipment. This November, and every election, it is important to know the power you have behind one vote. Especially in local elections, sometimes just a few votes impact the next four years of your everyday life.
As a local government employee, I encourage you to take a few moments each month to read the local paper, follow along in a Board Meeting or reach out to your local elected official. It is easy to go to the same news source for what is happening around you, but the most real, unbiased opinion can only be formed if it comes from you.
Lastly, as you go to the polls on November 3rd remember to take a time to take in the moment. YOU, as an American citizen can cast a vote and directly impact the future policies and direction of the local municipality you live in, the state, and the nation.