Submerged under the daily tidal wave of national and international news about politics, climate change, jobs, trade and so forth, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Between the media intrusion into our lives and the challenges of earning a living, sometimes it’s difficult to bring attention to what’s happening politically on a local level. But it’s on the local level that politics most directly affects us all.
Nationally, the upcoming election is referred to as “mid-term” but locally, our elections are never mid-term; City Council terms are staggered and some of our council members are elected or re-elected every two years. The same is true of the elections for the Board of Trustees of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District and the Sonoma Valley Hospital Board. Between these three bodies, decisions are made that affect our everyday lives, our health and our children–things that matter.
The people who run for local office generally do so without financial compensation, and spend hundreds of hours each year deliberating decisions and establishing policy. Many of these matters are, frankly, rather boring to most of the public, but nonetheless vital to the proper operation of local government or administration. And the learning curve required to fully understand and master the ins-and-outs of how things work takes years. In short, serving in public office is a combination of patience and hard work, an activity not well-suited for the lazy.
City government has some big and important items on its agenda these next few years; reviewing the Urban Growth Boundary, providing adequate pension funding, improving infrastructure, regulating development, establishing housing policy, managing tourism, sustaining the local economy, and more all need to be addressed. School District challenges include recruiting teachers, maintaining its facilities, overseeing the expenditure of bond monies, stabilizing its budget and planning for the future. Our local hospital is coping with continual changes in Medicare and Medical policy and reimbursement, upgrading and maintaining its aging infrastructure, deciding in which direction to take its services, and plotting a viable path to its future survival. None of this is possible without the election of well-qualified, dedicated and hard-working people.
It’s all too easy to sit at home, let others do the work of governance, and then complain when things turn out differently than we’d like, but governance is only as good as we citizens demand that it be. This means the job of citizenship doesn’t end once the vote is tallied; to the contrary. Unless the public remains involved–attends meetings, volunteers for commissions or committees, helps raise funds and brings ideas to the public forum–those chosen by citizens for community leadership cannot be effective.
Democracy does not work unless it is participatory. The alternatives are lousy: that only those with money get access to the levers of power, that those who are dishonest ply their dishonest ways with impunity, that unelected administrators usurp the public’s influence, and that terrible decisions get made. Opting out of voting is harmful, but opting out of citizenship makes matters worse.
Yes, local elections matter, but they are just one thread in the fabric of community governance, and we hope our Valley’s citizens will continue their long history of engagement.