For the past nine years, I have served my city as an elected councilman in the City of Artesia, California, and I have to say that my biggest concern for the future of my city is that my constituents are not engaged in what is happening in their city.
And this really surprises me because I believe that what we do in local government is more relevant to the everyday lives of my constituents than what our elected officials do in our state capitol or in Washington DC or what the presidential candidates are talking about during the primaries.
Your local government provides you with tangible services that you rely upon every single day that affect the quality of life in your neighborhood and your community:
- public safety, such as police, fire protection, and paramedics;
- infrastructure, such as roads, sidewalks, sewers, water, gas, electricity, and street lights;
- trash collection;
- street sweeping;
- parks and recreation; and
- senior services
So, if you want to improve the quality of life in your own city, you need to petition your local government. Many people today want to improve the “walkability” and “bikeability” of their community, improve their access to public transportation, increase the number of public parks, and make their communities safer and cleaner—these are all the responsibility of your local government.
But how do you get local government to act upon your priorities?
You have to engage your local government.
I’m not talking about voting, because you vote for local elected officials every four years—what do you do in between elections? Engage them.
Here are three things you can do to prepare yourself to effectively engage your local government:
1. Talk to your neighbors and community members.
If you want to petition your local government to improve something in your city, you need to know what your community wants. You might be surprised to find out that you and your neighbors agree on what needs to be done.
2. Get to know your city’s elected local government representatives.
Your local elected officials live in your community. They are your neighbors. They may attend the same place of worship that you do; their kids may go to the same school as your kids; you may have gone to school together in high school; or you may see them at the grocery store or the mall shopping.
Don’t be intimidated by them.
Most of them want to meet you because you are a voter (or you know people who are voters), and they always need votes.
Instead of complaining to your local elected official about what is going on in the city, invite her to coffee or to lunch. Get to know her better. Ask her why she ran for office and what she would like to do as an elected official. Share with her what you would like to see improved.
3. Invite your elected official to meet with your neighbors.
Now that you have talked to your neighbors to find out what they are concerned about and you have met your elected official, invite your elected official to meet your neighbors to discuss their issues.
If your elected official was happy to meet you (one voter), they will be very happy to meet a room full of voters. Get your elected official to make a commitment to discuss this issue with her council colleagues and city staff.
Now, your elected official will not only see you as a voter, but as an important and engaged member of the community. Once you engage in this way, you will want to see it through.
What are some other ways you’ve engaged with your local city government?