Picking a school board member or city councilman is in some
respects more difficult than voting for a President. None of the political shorthand that helps us
choose candidates in state and national elections is any use at this level. Party affiliation, stands on prominent
issues, they don’t provide much guidance. The candidates aren’t on CNN or Fox News and unless they do something hideous, you won’t read about them in the paper.
The best local public servants are master
administrators. They are tasked with
managing details too obscure or dull to attract much attention from the general
public. Which science curriculum would
be best suited to third grade students based on cost and fit with the wider
priorities? How much money should the
city invest in sewer improvements versus road resurfacing? What would be the best use of space in a
renovated district building?
You can ask them questions about specific issues. That helps.
But choosing a candidate in these elections is more like hiring a
roofing contractor than voting for a Congressman. These are officials who will reach deeply
into your life, impacting your kids, and wading through deep administrative
details. Hearing a position statement
will only tell you so much. You need to
know more than their positions. You need
to have a feel for their character and personality.
Fortunately, at this level there lots of opportunities to
look these folks in the eye and make some judgments about how they will perform. These candidates are your neighbors after all. They are far more accessible than you might expect. Look for chances to attend neighborhood
coffees with the candidates. The TribLocal and Patch
sites are a great source for information on public forums and for summaries of
the results. They are also a good place
to find local endorsements and discussion boards.
Local elections here in DuPage County will be held on April
5, 2011, with early voting starting on March 14. With a little investment of effort we can
hire the best folks for those jobs.