This was especially true for local posts on school boards, city councils, township boards and county commissions that required elections.
I knew those people weren’t doing it for the money. Most local boards pay very little, if anything at all. The hours can be long.
There is much more to do than just attend meetings. Elected officials have to study agendas and do their homework on proposals. They also have to attend public functions. They take phone calls at night or listen to their neighbors and constituents. They get stopped at grocery stores to hear about the concerns of people they represent.
As a former member of the media, we could be pretty tough on local officials. If we didn’t like their decisions, we didn’t hesitate to let them know about it on our Opinion pages. We’d write editorials that criticized them or their actions.
And, if that wasn’t enough, voters would let them know of their dissatisfaction – and sometimes they weren’t very polite.
I’ve covered meetings in which elected officials were verbally abused. In one case in Texas, I also witnessed a board member being physically assaulted. He wasn’t paid for being a board member.
Being a public official can sometimes be very unrewarding.
So, why do they seek such demanding positions? I’m sure there are some who seek office because of the prestige of being a city mayor or school board president. People have high regard for these positions.
But I’ve come to believe that the many men and women who seek public office do so because it is a good way to give back to their communities. They want to be involved in decisions that will better their communities.
While I sometimes could be hard on public officials, I came to respect what they were trying to accomplish.
When I was a young reporter on the Marquette (Mich.) Mining Journal, I was assigned to the Ishpeming office. I wrote several stories that likely painted a negative picture of that area.
A city council member from the nearby town of Negaunee wanted to approve a resolution banning me from writing any negative stories. The council, of course, declined his request. I snickered. I thought it was funny.
But, looking back at it, I now understand his move. That councilman was proud of his city. And he was proud to be one of its representatives.
Another time, I wrote some stories critical of the mayor of Del Rio, Texas. The mayor was instrumental in closing a neighborhood fire station and building a new one on the outskirts of the city. The newspaper’s editorial board opposed the move. I can remember the mayor standing outside our pressroom on an early Sunday morning, waiting for the press to start so he could see what we wrote about him.
Elected officials don’t always make popular decisions. I’m sure, though, they believe they are making decisions that are best for the voters.
I have come to appreciate the hard work and efforts of all the people who give up their time with their families or time they could be doing other things to make important decisions in our communities. They don’t get enough recognition for all the good work they do.
It is easy to be critical of elected officials, but put yourself in their shoes — there is a lot of responsibility in representing us on the many local boards of government. My hat is off to all the men and women who represent us well.
— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist