Let’s face it: we love competitions. It is amazing how people who have almost nothing in common become bosom buddies when rooting for their team at a sports event. There is nothing like victory, no matter what it represents, including elections. These ‘races’ on election day result in someone coming in ahead of the others. It is great to be on the winning side, especially when your particular candidate is going to champion the cause that was your specific concern.
But here is where some caution must be made, especially for those candidates who are rookies to their position. This year, there were a considerable number of newly elected city and township officials and school board directors. There is a euphoria that comes from winning, especially if it was a close race. But once the victory party is over, it becomes time to think about what to do next. Spoiler alert — it will be a real job and not necessarily easy, simple, or fun.
Both the newly elected official and their supporters need to recognize that the field changes radically from running for office to being in office. Here are some suggestions that the newbies should keep in mind and their supporters should remind them of.
First of all, you have taken an oath of office to be a representative for all those in your voting district, and not just those who voted for you. I have actually heard newly elected officers brag that they are going to crush those who voted against them. Every political office is a position of responsibility to follow the law and do what is in the best interest of the general populace, and not just one’s own personal fan club.
Second, recognize that you need to understand the laws, procedures, and protocols of the office you have just been voted into. Even if you have been attending the meetings for years as an observer, it is a world of difference to be on the other side of the table. It was quite humbling for me to have an MBA, a PhD, and postdoctoral studies at Harvard University and still recognize that I was a first grader when it came to understanding the complexity of the responsibilities of a Pennsylvania Township Supervisor.
Third, don’t judge the fellow officials on your board, especially the incumbents. Yes, they may be disparaging to you as a rookie, but face it — they do know more than you do. There are nuances to the governmental process that can save time and money. Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies; learn to live with those of your fellow officials.
The fourth point would be to understand all aspects of your budget and all the funding that is behind it. When you get on your board, the budget is already set, and you have to live with it. Get familiar with it and remember that you do not have to spend every dollar, and if you need to increase it, think it through carefully. Remember that citizens hate tax increases, and debt requires interest.
The fifth is to learn to network with those outside your particular sphere. My learning skyrocketed when I discovered PSATS, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. Their publications, local seminars, and annual conventions in Hershey were a goldmine of information and ideas. Every municipal entity has such organizations, and a good board should budget for workshops or conferences for the sake of learning procedures and practices and networking with colleagues in other municipalities.
The last suggestion is to be willing to admit you were wrong. In the early 2000s, Clinton Township registered voters circulated a petition that got a resolution on the ballot to enlarge the board from three supervisors to five. The reason was the public anger over the supervisors doing away with the local police force. Two new supervisors were voted in with one purpose in mind — get the local police back. Yet, when the new supervisors saw the budget and did an actual cost/benefit analysis, they also realized that discharging the police force was the right move.
For those who are sitting on the outside looking in, don’t be afraid to remind your officials of these suggestions. They represent you — whether they like it or not.