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Municipal law: 10 tips for new city council or county board members

On Behalf of | May 24, 2021 | Firm News |

Getting elected to a local position can help you change the world. While you don’t have the same authority as someone in a federal elected position, you can still have a profound impact on your local community.

By leading the way at the local level, you could help make the world a better place. However, trying to step up as a local political figure will undoubtedly incur challenges. The 10 tips below can help you navigate this process with greater success.

1) Be willing to learn

When you first get elected to local office, you won’t know how municipal authorities work. Investigating the processes and asking questions will go a long way toward helping you understand how to do your job properly.

2) Remember that slow and steady wins the race

People new to local politics often burn themselves out within a matter of months. Keep the focus on the big goals and break them down into small steps.

3) Follow through with what you promise to your constituents

Whether you ran on a pedestrian safety platform or a promise to fix issues with your public school system, the people who voted for you want to see you tackling the challenges you said you would.

4) You can rock the boat, but don’t tip it over

Does your township council follow Robert’s Rules of Order? Do you need backing from other elected officials to change policy or enact new rules? Rather than trying to forge your own path, it is crucial that you not just ask what the rules are and learn them but also follow them to achieve your objectives.

5) Try to maintain your unique perspective

The voters saw something in you that they value. Your ethics, your professional history or maybe your personality are something that people liked enough to vote for. Maintain your perspective on the big issues.

6) Identify potential conflicts of interest

With authority comes the risk of abuse of power. Identify when you are too close to a situation or listen to others who say that you are. 

7) Document the issues that you witness instead of slinging accusations

If you spot others taking bribes or breaking local government rules for their own benefit, you don’t just want to call someone out to the local newspaper or in the next publicly attended meeting. You want to document their behavior so that you won’t look like a mudslinging politician. That way, you can put pressure on those breaking the rules without seeming like you are doing the same thing.

8) Make yourself accountable to your constituents

Providing your constituents with regular updates about the strategy you apply and the steps you have taken to initiate change will encourage others to get more involved in the process and to continue supporting you.

9) Be cautious in your use of the press

Winning an election can mean that your opinion carries more weight than it once did. Little things you might say, like criticizing a local restaurant, could have unintended consequences. You need to be proactive when engaging with members of the press or using social media.

10) Make yourself accessible

Whether you have office hours or host community forums, you want to give the public the opportunity to ask questions or present concerns. The more accessible you are, the better you will do at representing your community within the local government.