This November, three seats will be up for election for Sonoma’s City Council, those of Madolyn Agrimonti, Kelso Barnett, and Robert Felder. Barnett and Felder are council appointees filling remaining terms created by previous council member resignations. Agrimonti has already indicated she intends to run for a third term. Barnett has yet to reveal his intentions. Felder indicates he will not run.
The conventional view about encouraging people to run for City Council is to talk about the value of new voices, diversity of candidates, fresh ideas, and volunteerism. These ideas are all valid, but political and civic reality create a different picture. Holding public office is a sacred trust: putting one’s own interests behind those of the community as a whole; it demands sacrifice, seriousness, a lot of time, and the right motivation.
The qualities that make a good city council member include intelligence, a willingness to put up with criticism, the willingness to study and work hard, and understanding the importance of setting aside enough ego to actually listen to and work well with others. It takes three votes of the council to make decisions; the lone voice may grab headlines, but the key to a successful City Council is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires mutual respect, and respect is not bestowed, it is earned.
There are those who run for the council because they think it will be fun. Don’t bother. The work of the City Council is laborious, time-intensive, inconvenient, and often boring. There are those who run because they look forward to having public attention. Again, don’t bother. The attention that comes with public office is often intensely negative, and social media exacerbates shaming and nastiness. There are those who run because they see the City Council as a step to higher office. Not likely; only the rare few have pulled off that trick.
Sonoma’s City Council needs people who care about this community, first and foremost, and who are prepared to sacrifice a big slice of their personal life on behalf of others to help solve the complex problems we face. From creating affordable housing to ensuring a stable city budget; from hiring a new permanent City Manager to representing the city at the County level; from ensuring auto and pedestrian safety to making sure our business community stays healthy and strong; from addressing the needs of the unhoused to providing professional fire and police services; these are just a few of the significant issues facing the City of Sonoma.
Politics gets a bad rap these days. Alleged financial corruption, intense lobbying by special interests, suspicious campaign funding, and bad behavior by big egos turn off voters. In a small city like Sonoma, though, where members of the City Council bump into voters while shopping for melons at the local market, honesty and sincere effort count for a lot, as do approachability and openness to listening to the public’s concerns with respect and courtesy.
If our points create some hesitation about running for the City Council, that’s good. For those of you who still are interested, attend every meeting you can and then decide if it’s the right job for you. Yes, the pay stinks, the hours are long, and the problems are incessant, but for the right person, and that might be you, the rewards are great!