Democracy and citizen involvement

Now is the time to consider running for council, mayor and school board

We’re only a few months past the contentious 2016 presidential election and for many of us, we are still weary from a long, drawn-out campaign that continues to divide this country.

However, this fall, voters will again be asked to make a decision in governance. And this time, the decisions made at the ballot box truly will have a direct impact on what happens at the local level.

City council, mayoral and school board elections will be held across Iowa, including Marshalltown and every community in Marshall County.

Those who put forth their names, run and then win, will be crafting decisions that will impact our students’ future educational opportunities, our future growth and how much money will come from taxpayers’ wallets.

These are crucial elections and thus, we need a qualified slate of candidates to choose from — interested citizens who are committed to bettering our communities and schools.

Too often, finding good people to seek elected office proves challenging. Serving on a city council or a school board is a big commitment of time, very little pay, if any, and sometimes a thankless job, especially if a decision is made that is unpopular with constituents.

But the rewards are great if you’re a member of a council that helps to change a community’s fortunes for the better, or as a school board member, steer a school district toward greater educational heights.

In Marshalltown, there are four school board seats (currently held by Bea Niblock, Kendall Derby, Ben Fletcher and Michael Miller) up for election on Sept. 12.

The future of Marshalltown’s youngest minds rests, in part, on the decisions board members make in terms of hiring practices, curriculum and overall delivery of educational resources. The board has to carefully use the finances available to craft the right course for our students.

Then on Nov. 7, Marshalltown residents will cast a ballot for mayor (incumbent Jim Lowrance) and four city council members (currently held by Bethany Wirin, Bill Martin, Mike Gowdy and Dan Kester).

The city is a multi-million dollar enterprise. The council controls the purse strings — everything from employee salaries, infrastructure including streets, recreational offerings and planning for future growth and development.

The mayor, meanwhile, is the unofficial spokesperson and leader of the community. It’s a part-time gig, but in reality, has become a full-time post, meeting with constituents, business leaders and community activists, attending ceremonial events as well as high-level meetings with potential business and industry seeking expansion opportunities.

On today’s front page, in our election preview article, most of the incumbent officeholders indicated they are either planning to run again or are still deciding as to whether or not they want to seek another term.

And while we are fortunate to have some great council and school board members, we hope more Marshalltownians will step forward to run this year.

Of note, we would like to see more minorities, more women and younger candidates seek public office. Marshalltown’s demographics are much different than in years past, and people of all backgrounds should have a voice in what happens in their community. The current city council and mayor, all solid ambassadors for our city, is comprised of seven white men age 50 and older, and just one woman.

The Marshalltown school board is more evenly divided with four men and three women currently serving, but with no minority members. Considering the composition of our student body, it would be good to have representation from the Latino, African-American or Southeast Asian community.

However, more importantly, voters like to have choice.

That was the case two years ago when eight candidates competed for four school board seats. School district patrons were provided an opportunity to hear a variety of viewpoints and that was good for democracy.

And considering the recent appointment of Dan Kester to the first ward council seat where he and eight others were seeking to fill the seat vacated by the late Bob Schubert, that’s an indication there is significant community interest in public office.

Regardless of background, however, we encourage all potential candidates to consider running for one of the seats available this fall.

For school board, candidates have from July 10 through Aug. 3 to file the necessary paperwork. For those interested in city council and mayor, the filing period is from Aug. 28 to Sept. 21.

Those who are serious about running, however, should really start thinking about the opportunity now and not wait until the filing periods are coming to a close.

The decision to run should not be last minute. It requires contemplation and a recognition of one’s commitments as it relates to family, work and other areas of interest.

In a recent editorial, the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald noted that “Democracy runs on the fuel of citizen buy-in and citizen involvement.”

Now is the time for citizen involvement and we need good people to help lead the charge toward a better future for our students and our community.

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Contact Jeff Hutton at 641-753-6611 or jhutton@timesrepublican.com