Social Engagement: Medium to High
What’s what: There are over 500,000 elected offices in the United States, and the overwhelming majority are at the local level. If you’ve ever considered exploring the political scene or just want to be on the inside track about what’s going on in your town—and having a say—run for local office. Holding a municipal council seat is a great way to use your knowledge for the benefit of everyone in your community. Municipal government functions as your town’s legislative body, adopting laws and ordinances as allowed by federal and state law. Council members are elected by town residents and depending on local law, the mayor could be elected by citizens or chosen by council members.
Amava Take: If you want to solve particular problems in your community, your local government needs you. For a municipality to run smoothly, it’s essential to have dedicated citizens at the helm to represent the community’s interests and uphold the town’s vision. Most council seats are volunteer, especially in smaller communities, but many offer a stipend and health benefits.
From the front office:
What kinds of candidates are you looking for to fill these jobs?
These positions are usually publicly elected and people who run are generally part of a campaign associated with a political party.
Any tips for first-timers to make it a productive and fulfilling experience?
You live in the town so you know where the potholes are and what parks need renovating. Do what you’re there to do but listen closely as well. There’s sometimes a lot of red tape to filling a pothole.
What is the most important job of a council member?
Introducing and passing ordinances and listening to citizens’ concerns.
From the trenches:
What’s the most satisfying part of the job?
Holding an elected position is one of the strongest ways to create change and inspire others in our communities.
How would you describe the hard parts?
Getting consensus on a tough issue when everyone is passionate. Those meetings can drag on into the night and then into weeks and months and there is always someone who is not going to be happy in the end.
What’s surprised you the most about being a council member?
The volume of official protocol and state and federal rules that have to be followed. Everything that happens in a meeting is literally by the book.
Special requirements: Each state has its own requirements. For the most part, you can run for local office if you are 18 years old or older, a U.S. citizen, a state resident where you are looking to run as well as a resident of the municipality.
Finding a position: Check your town website to see if there is an empty seat or whose council seat will be up for grabs next and check in with your local political office and express a desire to run. You should also check your local election office for filing deadlines. It helps to have a voting block, for example if you were a volunteer firefighter or coach, but it’s not necessary. Explore the appropriate online organizations for campaign advice and resources: USA.gov has a search function to help you find the website for your state or local election office. Candidate Boot Camp is packed with how-to information and campaign tips. The League of Women Voters is dedicated to helping women get involved in the election process and offers step by step instructions that apply to multiple states. This article in the New York Times Magazine outlines how to run for local office.