My involvement in local government covers more than 40 years as a volunteer, elected school board member, and city manager. Contrary to what many seem to believe about politicians, the overwhelming majority of local officials I have worked with have been honorable, caring people wanting to do their best for the community.
Local governments in Oregon are generally nonpartisan, and I really don’t know the political affiliation of many of the councilors and mayors I have worked with over the years. Much of my career has been spent in rural communities, which leads me to believe that a majority of mayors and councilors I’ve served were registered Republicans. I believe some were registered as Democrats and Independents. I have frequently seen the Democrats take very conservative positions and the Republicans take a more liberal stance; not because they were intent on defying a political party, but because they put their desire to do what was right for the community above ideology. I learned early in my career to never assume how someone would vote based on my perception of their political leanings.
The strength of local democracy is the quality and commitment of the men and women who volunteer to do the hard work and make the difficult decisions required of local leaders. Sometimes city councils have to make unpopular decisions, like raising utility rates, knowing that the community could get by for awhile before anyone realized that the easy decision was ultimately far more costly. I do not mean to imply that city councils or city managers always make the best decisions, but almost without exception in my experience, I believe they have made an honest attempt.
Election campaigns often include attacks against candidates that are either greatly exaggerated or completely unwarranted. There are certainly examples of people of bad character with even worse motives seeking local office, but most candidates are representative of the group of people they want to serve. I could probably write a short book about some of the difficult characters I have met as a city manager. Fortunately, most of them did not serve on the city council. We shouldn’t be surprised that we usually elect people who we like and respect; particularly in relatively small towns where people know one another. I have seen a number of local elections where one candidate spent large sums of money and lost while his/her opponent spent almost nothing.
Local government is the means we have chosen to provide many services we all need and to make community decisions that affect us all. Albany has a strong record of electing people who serve those important ends with good judgment and civility. I have been privileged to work with four mayors and many councilors over the past nine years who represent the best of local government and the community they serve.