On Tuesday, Nov. 3, only a couple months from now, local elections will be held across the continent. These races will result in new faces and old faces being sworn in to sit on city commissions, county commissions, state boards, and to fill a slew of mayoral seats.
These are the people who will be tasked with setting your property tax rates, as well as the cost of water and sewer services. They’ll determine whether garbage gets picked up once a week, or more often. These are the folks who will plan for snow removal this winter, and struggle with the budget if it falls short this year in an attempt to make sure the shortage doesn’t persist next year.
These office seekers are also the people who will decide if your local airport stays open or closes. It will be their call as to whether they’ll modernize the facilities or not. Virtually everything of importance that happens at your local airport will fall under the purview of these public officials.
I wonder what sort of shape GA might be in if no openly pro-aviation candidates run. I also wonder what might happen if some very pro-aviation candidates jump into those local races. Someone like you, for instance.
Some years ago I wrote an op ed for the local newspaper in which I criticized my city government for not managing our airport more effectively. That column led a handful of airport regulars to ask me if I would run for a seat on the city commission. After taking some time to think about it a bit, I filed my paperwork, opened a campaign bank account, and set myself to the task of unseating an incumbent mayor. That’s not an easy thing to do. And contrary to popular belief, simply putting your name on the ballot and speaking in a loud, clear voice does not make you a competitive candidate.
I set my financial sights low, my workload high, and did my best to build a small team of dedicated supporters who would back my campaign. In the end, we won, locking up 62% of the vote. The newspapers call that a victory. In my experience, it’s the start of a steep learning curve that includes a lot of reading, a lot of study, hours upon hours of talking to department heads, rank and file workers in the trenches, members of the public, and even spending time speaking and listening to students who can’t vote.
As an elected official you represent the public, not just the members of the public who voted for you. The work is hard. The pay is lousy. The hours are long. But sometimes you get to be a part of doing something that matters. And that’s worth every bit of the annoyance the job carries with it.
In my case, I got to lead the charge to dissolve a government committee that had been meeting for nine years, yet had no purpose. Two dozen staffers would prepare for and attend these meetings. Yet the committee didn’t have the authority to enter into a contract, raise or spend money, hire employees, or actually do anything more than gather in a room and talk. Once the pointlessness of the committee became clear to me, I announced my intention to kill it and stop wasting the public’s money and the staff’s time. It took two years and the election of two new like-minded members, but we did it. That committee no longer exists.
One of my campaigning points was to make the airport a more valued part of our city’s economy. I lobbied to manage it more professionally, to market it more effectively, and to accept the general aviation community as an asset, not an irritant.
That process is still ongoing, but those points have made it into the newspaper, they’ve been discussed in public meetings, and for the first time since I’ve lived in town we’re actually making progress at the airport.
The city commission passed an ordinance to create an airport advisory committee, and after leaving office I was appointed to that committee. I serve as its chairman, being voted into that position by my fellow board members.
An auspicious group, I suspect the city couldn’t afford us if we established ourselves as a consulting group. Yet we form up on a regular basis, study the issues and advise the airport manager and the city administration as to how our airport could be run more effectively.
That committee, which includes tenants and business owners as well as members of the public, has significant input into what happens on our field. Thanks to the men and women who volunteer their time to sit in on those meetings and work through the issues that confront us, our airport is improving.
The process is slow. Sometimes, maddeningly so. But change comes to those who push for it, provided they act professionally, work collaboratively, and express themselves articulately. We don’t get personal with each other during meetings. We work the issue. There is no upside to insulting each other. The career politicians have certainly proved that to be true. Progress can be made, however. And that progress can leave a positive, lasting impression and fond memories for those involved.
I urge you to consider running to fill a seat this year. There is still time. Find your voice, craft your platform, build your team, and run. You would be amazed what a knowledgable individual can accomplish from the inside.
So run. Serve. Do general aviation proud. You’ll be glad you did.