My Turn: Why YOU should run for local office | SierraSun.com

My Turn: Why YOU should run for local office

Jim McCauley
Placer County Clerk-Recorder-Registrar of Voters

Who makes the decisions that have the biggest and most direct impact on the daily lives of Americans nationwide? George Bush? No – guess again. Arnold Schwarzenegger? Not even close.

It’s not the federal government or the state government, but local government bodies – small political jurisdictions such as city councils, fire districts, and school boards – who’s decisions affect everything from where you shop to what your children eat at school.

Celebrated as the best example of democracy and cursed as the worst form of fragmented government, special districts, school districts and city councils are California’s most abundant form of local government.

Placer County has over 80 local government bodies that elect candidates to governing board positions. Most of these jurisdictions conduct elections concurrent with the November General Election.

Offices vary from City Clerk to Elementary School District Board Member to Resource Conservation District Director. We elect everything from Utility Districts to Hospital Districts to Airport Districts.

There are usually no prerequisites or qualifications necessary to run for these positions. Most of the time the only requirements are that you are a registered voter and live in the jurisdiction.

Most local office seats offer salaries, per diem reimbursement, and/or health insurance, in exchange for attending one or two meetings per month. Some districts even offer paid training programs for first time directors.

More importantly, serving on a local district provides opportunities to help shape the communities in which we live. As a board member, you have a unique ability to influence decisions made at the local level. You get a chance to frame the debate on issues such as academic standards, environmental protection, and public safety. Just a few years ago, it was locally elected Placer County school board trustees who led the national debate on religion in schools by standing by their decision to have “God Bless America” placed on their school marquee after attacks on 9/11.

Yet despite the rewards and recognition, candidates for these positions often run unopposed because so few people make the effort to run for office. You see, if a candidate for local office faces no opposition, state law automatically awards the office to that person. The candidate never has to debate his or her views in a public forum and voters never get a chance to have their voices be heard.

In Placer County, there are potentially more than 100 races for roughly 200 seats in any given general election year. However, of the 180 seats open for election in November of 2006, just over half of the incumbents faced opposition – the others returned to their offices unopposed. Even worse, some open seats received no candidate interest and went unfilled during the candidate filing process.

In a republic, the best way to ensure that our elected officials are representing us properly is to have them stand for reelection on a recurring basis. In order to have our local representatives stand for election, we must be willing to put our names forward in order to have these offices appear on the ballot.

Candidate filing for the November 4, 2008 General Election will open on Monday, July 14 and close on Friday, August 8 in most cases. If an incumbent officeholder fails to file by the August 8 deadline, candidate filing will continue in that office for everyone but the incumbent until Wednesday, August 13.

There is no cost to file for most offices. There is some minor paperwork that needs to be completed, but my staff is prepared to help you with completing the paperwork and answering your questions.

If you are unfamiliar with your local districts or if you would like to check your residency in a particular district, you may call the Placer County Elections Division and we can provide a list of districts for which you would be eligible based on your residence address.

If you feel like you may want to run for office but do not know where to begin, my office provides a series of “Candidate Workshops” aimed at answering the questions of first-time candidates. The workshops will be held on June 21st in Auburn, June 24th in Tahoe City, June 30th in Rocklin, July 9th in Lincoln, and July 17th in Roseville. Please visit our website, http://www.placer.ca.gov/elections, or contact us at 530-886-5650 for times and locations. If you cannot attend a workshop, please call or come by the office and we will answer your questions.