PTC’s Imker gives step-by-step plan to becoming council member
Many of you probably didn’t notice but at the last city council meeting an agenda item was approved stating that elections for council posts 1 and 2 are being held this coming November.
This letter is for you, the citizens, to encourage you to consider running for office. It may appear unconventional that someone in office would advise others to run for that office. But if you know anything about me, you know I don’t fit the mold of a typical politician.
Before diving into the subject title area, let me say I’m proud to be a member of an entire council who I believe has demonstrated the utmost integrity by proving over and over again there has been absolutely no personal gain at stake in regards to the decisions made over the last year. I honestly believe every single council member has only the best interest of Peachtree City at heart.
There has been absolutely no mention anywhere over the last year about any issue where someone could say a council member was voting because a special interest (builder, retailer, anyone, etc.) wanted a vote a certain way. To Don, Doug, Kim and Vanessa, thank you.
OK, now to the title subject.
Step one — Deciding to run. DO IT! If you win you will have one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Make your decision on which post to run for based on your perception of what you can do better than any other potential candidate ... or incumbent. Write a declaration letter to the local newspaper editors of your intention and include What, Where, How, Why Who, When. It’s exciting and self-improving. It will cause you to look and think about issues that are important to the citizens.
Step two — The City Clerk will assist candidates in filing out the proper forms prior to “qualifying.” This includes completing four forms:
1. State Ethics Commission: Registration Form for a Campaign Committee.
2. State Ethics Commission: Declaration of Intention to Accept Campaign Contributions.
3. Financial Disclosure Form.
4. Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report.
These forms are rather easy to complete, especially the first two, which are simple one-page forms.
City staff is there to help you complete them and even notarize any forms without charge when required.
Step three — Understand the city’s ordinances and budget. You don’t have to be fluent but you should at least know how to look up an ordinance on the city’s website and the structure of the ordinance “book.” You should download a previous year’s budget and review it for structure and understand the big picture. Make appointments with city staff if necessary to get the picture you need.
Step four — Campaigning. You don’t need a committee or advisor or anything else. Do what you think will get your message across to the most voters. It may take the form of letters to the editors, yard signs, debates, etc.
Make sure your position is one that you believe most citizens care about. You won’t get elected on a platform of ensuring mailboxes have two slots. You will get elected on positions that impact the city and its citizens’ quality of life. That might take the form of budget issues or land use issues with the accompanying ordinance changes that may be required.
Step five — Qualifying is the term used to say you are paying the required fee during a specific one-week time period, usually about six weeks before the election, which in turn gets your name on the ballot.
This year, Posts 1 and 2 are up for election and the qualifying period is Aug. 29 through Sept. 2. It costs 3 percent of the annual job salary. For a city council post it is $180 based on a $6,000 a year salary. Again, the city clerk will help you do this.
Step six — Debates with other candidates. This is simply part of the vetting process. There’s lots of advice to be received. Only you can judge how to prepare. Familiarity with the issues is your best friend as it puts you at ease and enables you to state your position clearly and confidently.
Step seven — Advertising in newspapers. This is optional and depends on many factors but only you can judge the need. If you do, list your positions and how you differ from other candidates. Hint — Never ever include your opponent(s) name in writing. All you’re doing is providing name recognition.
Step eight — Election night. How does one describe it? To me it was exciting, interesting and provided a sense of finality to the election process. It‘s weird seeing your name scroll across the bottom of the TV for the first time. Usually, family members are more excited than you.
If you win, city staff will take you by the hand and start the process of providing you all you need to know in an unbiased procedure. You’ll get appointments with all the department directors and chiefs. You’ll get orientation tours of everything.
One memorable example in my case was going on a patrol ride with one of our police officers for a day. That particular ride included an arrest of a criminal at the south side Publix shopping center who was involved with stolen vehicles and chop shops outside Fayette County. Seeing our city police in action first-hand makes you appreciate the work they do ever so more.
You will be provided a $3,000 training budget to take classes in city government. There is only one mandatory class and that is usually provided in late February or early March. It is a day and a half session class held in Athens, Ga.
This class costs about $600 including reimbursements. It includes ethics rules and budgeting among many other items. All other training and classes are optional and staff will provide you with a list if you want to spend up to your $3,000 training limit. Again, you be the judge if you need any of this to vote on issues that concern the citizens of Peachtree City.
Knowing Robert’s Rules is not a requirement. It’s more a requirement that you have the courage to ask questions on procedure during a council meeting. It’s simple and I guarantee you that you will not be the only one who wants to know the answer to your question.
Staff at city hall will assist you with procedures for making motions and voting. They’ll even give you a practice dry run before you take office just to help you feel at ease by showing you all the steps going through a typical agenda. The city attorney will always be there to help you through any awkward moments. All you have to do is make your question known and things will stop until you’re up to speed.
It will be explained to you that executive session at the end of council meetings are called for one or more of the following reasons: 1. Real estate; 2. personnel; 3. lawsuits.
The city attorney will specify what executive session is for. A motion is made to go into executive session. You talk. No voting is allowed. You motion to come out of executive session. You may then make motions to vote on things if necessary. Then you motion to adjourn the council meeting. Easy.
Speaking of lawsuits. Don’t be concerned about being personally sued as a council member. The city has what’s known as indemnification; a sort of lawsuit insurance that will be explained to you. You will be told that at least once during your term chances are you will get a personal letter at your home that says you are being sued because of something. Simply take it to City Hall. Staff and the city attorney will take care of it. Now if you do do something stupid, that’s your own problem.
I personally don’t like “career” politicians. Running for two terms in a particular office to me seems more than enough time to get whatever you wanted done. It is the height of hypocrisy to think there are not plenty of people with great ideas and civic-minded motives that can do the job.
Anyone who thinks they are the only one who should be in office, term after term after term, is clearly self-appreciating. I just don’t like it and will not become one of them. I realize public apathy allows for career politicians. What can I say? I vote in every election. Do you?
Do not feel intimidated about the procedural mechanisms of getting things on the city council agenda and the process of preparing for the council meeting. Agenda items are usually generated by staff or council members. You may ask for your own agenda items for either discussion or voting by simply forwarding the request to the city manager.
In fact, any citizen can do this on pretty much any issue however it would be best to get in touch with a council member to sponsor the idea. Hint: If you see an agenda item that starts with the word “Consider” that means you’ll be voting on it that evening. Else it will just be an information gathering discussion.
Preparation for council meetings is made easy because staff provides you an “agenda packet” a week before the council meeting which includes unbiased positions from staff on the pros and cons for each voting agenda item as well as a staff recommendation. During the council meetings you will hear from staff, citizens and other council members and then vote. If you’re still not ready and think additional information is needed you can ask for a “Continuance” until a future council meeting.
Of course you will get numerous emails and sometimes phone calls from constituents on various issues. I try to always thank the person for their input. Discuss your own viewpoint if you wish but always remember they called you because they feel passionate about something. Many times you can forward an email to the city manager for follow-up. In many cases I get involved with a citizen’s issue personally and try to see it through to some decision point.
In my particular role as council member, I have taken it upon myself to understand the entire city budget. I feel without this understanding, votes that have financial impacts will not be fully comprehended. The city lives on the budget. Without it there is nothing else.
Remember, council members are citizens too. There is no special requirement. On many occasions you become one of five votes on issues you and usually the others have absolutely no previous experience with. You may think to yourself, I have no expertise on this issue. Well, usually there are no true experts.
You’ll be asked to vote on things with only the information you’ll be given and your own personal feelings. You’ll ask yourself, Is this in the best interest of the citizens of Peachtree City. You’ll try to make sure your vote is not based on any bias.
You’ll realize that with every vote you may lose a few former supporting constituents. You’ll wonder after hundreds of votes, who would ever vote for you again. You simply have to remember nobody else would vote on every issue exactly the same way as you.
Have confidence that the voters understand you are doing what you feel is best for the citizens. Many times people don’t see the bigger picture or the long-term impact of a vote and you’ll get an earful from those who are out to gain “points” by sharing nearsighted and short-term concerns without giving the whole picture.
These folks will not ask you to explain your vote. You may have explained your vote during a council meeting but 99 percent of the public does not attend or watch council meetings.
The uninformed may just hear the one-sided biased viewpoints of someone with an agenda. Trust me, there are many folks out there like that. This will be the most frustrating part of being a council member. You’ll need the fortitude to do what you know is best and your ally will be being able to explain it simply while not becoming biased yourself.
Just like this letter, someone out there will be ready to pounce on something they find disagreeable herein. They’ll take one little phrase or statement and try to make it look like I have no clue about something. Fine.
But will they run for office and offer themselves up for public inspection on every viewpoint required of a public employee?
I have given you and them a brief outline of becoming and being a council member. I sincerely hope some of you folks who haven’t before thought about really jumping in will see that other than the $180 it takes to get your name on the ballot, it’s really quite easy.
Do it. I promise you, you’ll look back and know it was one of the most rewarding adventures in your life.
Peachtree City Councilmember Post #1
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Imker’s post is one of two up for election this fall. The other is Post 2 Councilman Doug Sturbaum.]