Our View: Inspiring future city leaders
Steamboat Today hosted the first of two “Step Up and Serve” forums last Wednesday night, and turnout was strong, with about 30 people in the audience. The purpose of the event was to give interested residents an opportunity to learn more about what it is like to serve Steamboat Springs as a city council member.
Former council members Loui Antonucci, Paula Cooper Black, Jon Quinn and Cari Hermacinski participated in a panel discussion on the topic, and their presentation was thought-provoking and produced a list of key takeaways that we hope will inspire others to get involved at the grassroots level by pursuing a seat on the council. What follows is a summary of the former council members’ thoughts regarding their service.
City council isn’t about one person’s agenda; it’s about the community’s agenda. Residents should not run for city council if they have an ax to grind or are single-minded in wanting to accomplish one project or right one wrong.
Effective city council members need to have the ability to look way beyond their lifetime and initiate projects and policies that will have a long-term, lasting and positive impact on the future of Steamboat Springs.
City council members do make mistakes. To minimize harm, it’s important that council members make the best decisions they can with the information they have at the time.
A good city council member does their homework. They read their council packets, they research topics and they reach out to their constituents to gather information so they can make educated and timely decisions under pressure.
In small towns, there are only a few degrees of separation so it’s vitally important that city council members maintain their integrity by acknowledging potential conflicts of interest and stepping down from decision-making when necessary. Possessing a high standard of ethics is essential in this role.
Steamboat Springs’ form of government (with seven council members and no mayor) is a system that allows the community to vote out the majority of the council in any given election if residents don’t like the direction the city council is going. This system motivates city council members to be accountable to their constituents if they want to retain their seats, and it keeps the power of local government in the hands of the people.
City council members must be discerning. They need to gather all the facts before making a decision, and they need to be able to determine when the people who are speaking out on a certain topic truly represent a majority sentiment or they are just a very vocal minority. In those circumstances, council members need to make decisions that benefit the majority while inflicting minimal harm on the minority.
To serve on the city council, an individual must have thick skin. City council members are often the subject of discussion within the community and targets for criticism. As an elected official, city council members must be open to hear what various factions are saying and not get mentally defensive. And in the end, a city council member has to realize they have important decisions to make and those decisions are never going to please everyone.
City council members are the last line of defense between the residents and government bureaucracy. Good council members ask questions and conduct business openly and transparently. One of the council’s most important roles is one of oversight.
Council members are the policy makers, and it’s the city staff’s job to handle day-to-day operations of the city. The city manager is the council’s only employee, and, according to last week’s panelists, having a strong person in that position is important because they serve as de facto mayor, at the council’s pleasure.
City council service is different than other governing bodies at the state and federal level. The council is not a group of Republicans or Democrats but, rather a collaborative team of citizen legislators who serve independently of mainline politics.
The best city council members are visionary decision-makers who have the ability to build bridges that foster growth for the community and have the strength to make hard decisions to ensure Steamboat Springs is a great place for future generations to live, work and play.
When it comes to grassroots impact there may be no more important role than city council service, and we hope the information shared at the Step Up and Serve forums and in today’s commentary inspires more people to run. The decision to seek a council seat is not one to be taken lightly. But even with the pressures and responsibilities, serving as a city council member provides an unmatched opportunity to give back to the community and make decisions that will affect generations to come.
We encourage residents to attend the second Step Up and Serve forum, which will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Today at the Steamboat Today conference room. Panelists will include Julie Franklin, Steamboat Springs city clerk, Cari Hermacinski, former city council member and current county commissioner, and Lisa Schlichtman, editor of Steamboat Today. The discussion will focus on how to become a candidate, rules for campaign fundraising, an overview of the campaign process, media relations and open records law.
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