I’ve already noticed two different newspaper articles about whether or not the mayors of those cities plan to run again or not. For the politically aware, speculation has begun on who might run this year for mayor, or for council. The deadline to file for municipal elections is only a short five months away. It seems we are all taking a breather from the recent national and regional elections, yet municipal elections are just around the corner.
Since we have a little time before we know for sure who the candidates will be, I’d like to shed some light on what makes a good mayor or a good council member (in my opinion). I think about these general things when I consider and vote for candidates for municipal office. Disclaimer: I may or may not fit the description of a good council member in your minds. But AS a council member, I have a very informed opinion as to what works and what doesn’t. Also, this is not an endorsement for anyone’s election, including my own.
What makes a good mayor? In my opinion, a good mayor has a good professional relationship with each council member. He or she has demonstrated this by meeting with them or talking with them individually to learn more of their desires and positions. Being able to work as a team member and support other council members is integral to the successful mayor. He or she is respectful of the council members’ opinions and allows sufficient time for them to make their point. The good mayor does not push the council in a certain direction that is not consistent with the majority of the council’s position in order to further a personal agenda. The good mayor is respected and probably generally liked by his/her fellow council members.
Meeting skills are extremely important. The good mayor has the ability to summarize the positions of the council and the citizens that spoke and move the council towards making a decision or taking some action (or deciding no action needed). A mayor with institutional knowledge is extremely valuable when the discussion benefits from drawing in history or facts to shed some light. Institutional knowledge is gained by having a history of working within the Town government or Town itself long enough to understand how things work. The good mayor is patient and looks at all different viewpoints, taking time to weigh the good with the bad of any decision. Interestingly, the mayor must constantly juggle between being political and somewhat neutral, retaining professionalism and calm when presenting the consensus of the council. The good mayor represents the Town professionally outside of Town, building and maintaining good relationships with neighboring governments.
Finally, a good mayor not only works well with other council members, but works well with the Town staff. Respecting the staff and not attacking it, supporting and appreciating their work, and making suggestions for improvement for the benefit of the Town is important for the good mayor and the council.
What makes a good council member? A good council member (CM) works hard with their constituents by listening, recommending, empathizing, and ensuring they are truly “hearing” and understanding what the current opinions and issues are out there. They then take those opinions to Town Hall and use those opinions to shape their own when a decision needs to be made. The good CM recognizes that he or she serves as a voice of the people, and adequately represents those voices at the table.
The good CM understands that sometimes their position is different from their colleagues, but they make their position known in public in a respectful manner. Attacking other council members proves to be counterproductive. The good CM works well with other council members outside of regular council meetings….and asks for help from his/her colleagues for prior history, facts, information, or anything that could help that CM make a good decision. The good CM gives and takes, recognizing that not everything is going to go their way.
Bill Thorpe was a “good council member.” He knew his job was to reach out to people who might not otherwise approach a council member for issues that concern them, and he would try to help them to the extent he could. Bill Thorpe would always ask for more information from someone speaking at a council meeting if they did not present such information themselves, out of his genuine interest in that person. Bill would keep actively in touch with many different people in town about certain issues coming before the council, to make sure he knew how they were thinking so he could make better decisions. And Bill would have no problem “reminding” the mayor of something he might have missed, advising a younger council member about the ways of the council in the past, and that the “little guy” in town must never be forgotten.
Public service is not a right, but a privilege. Holding public office can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Being a good mayor or a good council member certainly comes by trial and error and by experience itself. The bottom line is to never lose sight of what drew you to the position in the first place.