The office I’m running for is not a “big” one—in fact most people (myself included) make it to adulthood without ever understanding exactly what City Council does. We never learned that City Council is the voting body for zoning decisions—not just controversial ones like casinos, medical marijuana, and micro-breweries, but also multi-family housing, and new residential/commercial space. We never learned that City Council votes on whether we should have free wifi at the airport, whether we can have chickens in our backyards, or if we should prioritize energy conservation.
Are you frustrated by the lack of recycling options in our community? Do you want to open a children’s bookstore across from an elementary school and need to get your building re-zoned? Do you want a pot-bellied pig as a pet? Are you passionate about adding green space/family-friendly areas downtown? Do you like trails? Do you think our city should continue to snow-plow each winter? Do you want to make sure our hospitals are able to recruit the very best physicians from across the country so your grandma gets great care?
City Council, City Council, City Council.
One of my main goals with this race is to broadcast this message: local government shouldn’t be confusing. It’s about the issues we face every single day, though typically we only notice when these issues go awry: sewer malfunctions, high traffic, lack of affordable housing. How City Council and the Mayor manage these issues, coupled with how they respond to citizens’ initiatives, is largely what determines a city’s reputation.
Yet so much of this goes on without us “average” citizens knowing anything about it. We know pockets—our brother who wants to build multi-family housing but can’t get the zoning, our mountain-biking friend who wishes trails connected around the city. We hear these questions everyday from people we know: why are there so many casinos? Why isn’t the bus system better? Why is it nearly-impossible to find glass recycling? Why are so many young people struggling/leaving?
These questions are exactly right. Only instead of asking them to ourselves, to each other, we need to be asking them of our local government representatives. Because although they may seem like isolated topics, in reality the bus system and controversial zoning and, yes, pot-bellied pigs, and snow-plowing (or lack thereof), and airport wifi, it all adds up fast. It adds up into a city where we want to live, where our friends want to move, or it adds up into a city with an aging population and a shrinking public safety budget.
I’m not suggesting the work itself is simple—most of these issues (city budget certainly among them) are incredibly complicated. Leaders have to make difficult choices all the time. I’m learning as much as I can, but there will still always be areas where I’ll need more research, where I’ll need to rely on the opinions of experts in the field, or the voices of constituents raising a problem I hadn’t considered. None of us have a monopoly on knowledge or life experience.
But I have come to understand that if you’ve ever thought local government doesn’t matter, or that your vote won’t change anything—*raises hand*—that’s because we think organizations like City Council won’t actually impact our lives. But I’m here to tell you: it will. It already is. The frustrations you experience on a daily basis in your city are the symptoms of this impact. If you want to know what local government issues you care about, ask yourself:
How much would it impact your life if snow-plowing stopped cold turkey? Or your best friend had to move away because her business closed? Or your grandma’s doctor wasn’t great because Billings couldn’t recruit the best? Or the house next to yours was abandoned? Or a casino opened across from your church? Conversely, how much better would your life be if you could recycle glass curb-side? Or if there was a marathon loop around Billings? Or if your niece was able to find a job and move up the street? Or the downtown had cops on bikes once again? Or the bus system was overhauled?
You know who’s actual job it is to care about that stuff? About your local quality of life?
I’ll give you one guess.