PAINTER: Being an elected official has its ups and downs

When I was in the newspaper business, I often wondered why someone would seek election to public office.
Mar 19, 2014

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

Comments

zwesterhouse

Talking to a former supervisor I considered running for a local supervisor position. But the former told me three things. 3 things that have happened to him in the past 20 years were the best. One was his wife, 2nd was his children and 3rd was day he left office. Have been appointed to several boards in the past. People need to be educated voters, perceptive voters, go with your first instinct or gut feeling when voting. There are some out there who just love the power or perceived prestige of being a board member. All because they are not getting any recognition at work - or they are a piss ant or factory rat just trying to become a self-appointed supervisor. So they fill that "lust" with a board position. Those jobs are low pay. But board seats can also attract scum and intellectual bullies. They have a personality deficiency - no one is erecting a statue to them like many other great men like Lincoln, Kenneday, or even Stalin, Lenin. So they fill it with being on a board - its easy to run, costs almost no money all you have to be is 18 with a pulse and generally good looking. My hats off to the good dedicated board members - to the bad ones - I can see right through ya all.

openears

Good read! People tend to bash on local elected officials and appointed board members before understanding all of the facts. I wonder how many people truly understand how much time and effort it takes. I also wonder how many board members have found themselves in legal drama when they were just acting as a volunteer helping the community. They are thankless positions, some might do it for prestige but I have to believe the majority do it for the good of the people. Those that complain should step it up and get involved.

Zegota

Comments are right on, but I respect local governments more then federal, because local governments are closer to the people. Local governments can be recalled, and elected by the local people, issues are more closer to the people. Sure some have very short temper, but being part of the solution, is so much better then being part of the problem. My hats off to those who serve locally, as long as you try your best, and keep your ethics...

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