We were talking recently with Clayton Councilman Butch Lawter, who was spot on when he said local government was both important and preferable.
Important because local government decides what we pay in property taxes, how much we pay for water and sewer, and, in some cases, even how much we pay for electricity. Local government then decides how to spend that money – always on public safety but also on things as diverse as street repairs and recreation. Important too because local government tells us what we can do with our land and buildings and, just as important, what our neighbors can do with theirs.
Preferable because our local government leaders – both elected and appointed – are our neighbors, meaning we can bend their ears in person. And if they don’t happen to live literally next door, then chances are we’ll run into them at church, at the grocery store or at the Main Street diner.
But no one attending a council or commissioners’ meeting for the first time would guess that local government was all that important. That’s because most such meetings are poorly attended, the small audience made up mostly of staff.
We like to think that council meetings are sparsely attended because people are happy with their government. It’s also possible that people feel their government will do as it sees fit, though we prefer not to think that way.
We prefer instead to be encouraged by candidate filings, which suggest that people know exactly how important their government is. We write this with five days remaining in this year’s filing period. But already, Smithfield has contested races for mayor and council; the last two Smithfield mayors ran unopposed. Selma too has a race for mayor, with a sitting councilman challenging the incumbent, suggesting a difference of opinion about the town’s direction.
By the time you read this, the filing period for this year’s municipal elections will have closed, and our hope is that every town will have contested elections. Because the issues – taxes and spending, land-use rules, etc. – deserve a healthy debate. After all, they’re important.