Today is election day. While local elections draw far fewer voters than national races, it makes little sense. Local officials have more immediate, and it could be argued, greater impact on daily life compared with national officials.
On today’s ballot are candidates for mayor, city council, and fire district commissioners, profiled in this newspaper over the past month. All are important positions whose officeholders make decisions affecting each one of us.
A city council is essentially a local policy-making and legislative body, adopting laws (ordinances and resolutions, and yes, taxes) and managing services considered essential or beneficial to city residents. The council sets goals and directs major projects and infrastructure improvements, ranging from growth management to land use, finances, and strategic planning. Examples include police, parking structures and fees, parks and recreational facilities and events, business permits and zoning, and deciding how and where to apply emergency relief or other funds received from state or national sources.
A mayor leads city council meetings, although the mayor’s council-related authority is no greater than any other council member. Mayors are essentially the city’s chief executive, overseeing city staff, budgets, and departments, such as transportation, education, parks, police, and in some cases, fire.
Speaking of which, fire commissioners are executives who run fire departments, geographically divided into districts. Fire commissioners manage administrative and firefighting personnel, budgets, equipment, and supplies to ensure departments are fully prepared when called. They also lead investigations of major or suspicious fires, and conduct non-emergency services, such as enforcing building safety codes, issuing non-compliance citations, safety inspections, and community fire prevention education.
Think if some races are uncontested, voting isn’t necessary? Think again. First, most ballots have at least one contested race. Second, voter participation tells our officials we citizens are closely monitoring their decisions, and can provide meaningful feedback so democracy can function as intended. Third, voting tends to make us more interested in following our own government, thus becoming better educated voters and citizens.
For a list of who’s on your ballot and where to vote, see kcgov.us/elections/ballot.asp. For other county sites see idahovotes.gov/clerk.shtml.
Not registered? No problem. You can register at your polling place today with official photo ID and a recent utility bill, bank statement or other proof of residence.
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.