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Serving in public office is about more than just an election



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December 08, 2010 | 08:03 AM
An open letter to those interested in public office:

Election races for aldermen, village trustees and presidents, town supervisors and chairmen, among others all will be up for grabs around the area come April. Nomination papers are due in less than four weeks from both prospective candidates and incumbents.

But serving in an elected office is more than just gathering some signatures and having your name on the ballot. There's no point in running at all if a candidate is not willing to work — before the election and if elected, for years after.

Successful candidates for elected office knock on voter's doors to talk with and listen to the people. Good candidates hand or mail out literature and have their supporters put up yard signs. And, they put together a core group of people to help them in their bid for elected office.

The key to winning is working for every vote in these low-turnout elections.

Because of all this effort, being on a ballot as a candidate is not something to take lightly. People choose the candidate they believe will best represent them. Also, in many cases the constituent and candidate have similar ideals regarding key issues facing the municipality.

But the work doesn't stop if a candidate is "lucky" enough to be elected. That's actually just the beginning and may be the easiest part of public service.

There's meetings to prepare for. Most local officials spend hours each week preparing for upcoming decisions. They go through their meeting packets and often attend committee meetings of groups they aren't even a member.

They talk to constituents about what they should do regarding an upcoming vote. Or, their constituents call the official to talk about an issue they feel is important and should be dealt with — usually immediately.

At most meetings, many of the votes are pretty clear and unanimous. But, there are times when a board or council is divided on an issue. The difficult part of being a public official is making a tough decision which may make you unpopular with your constituents or fellow board members.

The most difficult decision is when the official votes a certain way because he or she feels it is best for the municipality overall, but his or her constituents don't believe or understand why it is that way. Making the tough decisions will garner an elected official respect from supporters and dislike from others. It is impossible for a public official to make everyone happy all the time.

Local politics is the closest to the people of all elected offices. The officials who sit in the board or council chambers at the city, village or town halls have the most direct impact on the residents through their decisions — more so than state officials and even the President.

That also means the constituents are the closest to the local elected official. Constituents can attend board and committee meetings to see their representatives. They see their elected officials at the grocery store, school, gas station or bank. Constituents know where their elected official lives and what he or she looks like. Local candidates are the most approachable of all elected officials in the country.

So, if you're ready for all the challenges of being a public servant, there are plenty of elected offices to fight for this April. Maybe, we'll all be lucky enough to see several interested and willing candidates to require a primary in February.

Seiser is the editor of the Lake Geneva Regional News.

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