COUNCIL VOICE: Why YOU should run for office

2011 Takoma Park, MD city election.

COUNCIL VOICE • BY TIM MALE

Tim Male is the current Ward 2 Takoma Park city council representative. He was elected in 2011.

An election will be held this November for a new City Council in Takoma Park.  I hope that many people run for office.  I say that, not because I have any wish to myself lose office or to have my colleagues – Bruce, Terry, Fred, Jarrett, Kay and Seth – do so.  I enjoy serving with all of them and they each work incredibly hard on the Council.  Serving on City Council is a great job – I hope to get the chance to do so again if reelected by voters.

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But its such a rewarding job with so many tangible ways to benefit neighbors and community, that I want to explain what the job is like, at least from my experience.  I hope that for people out there who are interested – because you have a vision of what you might like to see done better or differently in the community – perhaps this can inform your decision.

Mostly flexible

The job takes about 10-20 hours a week but much of that can be scheduled flexibly.  The exceptions are Monday Council meetings every week over 10 months, five days-worth of summer/fall meetings with other municipal leaders and a few meetings with other city councils in the state.  Council meetings can take 3-6 hours, but there is no reason that a future Council couldn’t find ways to make meetings shorter.  Most of the rest of the time you spend reading documents, or making phone calls or meeting with constituents and these can be adjusted to fit around work, family and other commitments.  I expect others could do a great job on Council by putting in only 5-15 hours and using that time effectively.

One of the very best parts of the job is that almost every single week someone takes the time to say “thank you.”  Some weeks it feels like it happens every day.  Thank you’s rarely come through listservs.  To many who see the animosity sometimes generated around policy issues on listservs, you might think that it’s a thankless job.  But it’s not a thankless job.  People in Takoma Park are wonderful in simple expressions of gratitude when you try to help in some way.

Make a difference

And of course, people say thank you because you get to make change happen.  Although I’ve heard people say that ‘it takes two years just to figure out the job,’ it is not true.  Whether it’s a sidewalk or new state road funding, policy that creates new rights or negotiations over a budget, your ability to start trying to make a positive difference in people’s lives starts on the first day.

Takoma Park city council meeting

Much of the work is difficult.   It often feels impossible to resolve problems people bring to you.  So many families need assistance just to meet their day to day needs.  Sometimes the best you can do is just listen or assist in some way that is only a small step forward.   Broader citywide issues can be just as difficult because many lack a solution or Council lacks the power to make them happen.

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Tim Male and family – photo from 2011 campaign.

You spend a lot of time with the six others on Council.  We may have contentious issues to discuss.  We talk and laugh before and after meetings and when people can find the time, we sometimes meet one on one to get to know each other better and learn about different priorities.

A great but inefficient force

I believe government can be a great force for good in the world.  Its not always efficient about doing so -it doesn’t always move fast or in a transparent way.   So my last comment is about the city’s employees – your staff.  I’ve been so impressed by the dedication and hard work that our city’s employees put into their jobs.  One of the things that makes it possible to be effective on Council is how hard city staff work to prepare and plan, respond to questions on hundreds of projects and ideas big and small, and run the city.  It’s great to get to work with them.  That doesn’t mean that they always want to do what you or the whole Council wants them to do.

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Takoma Park city council meeting.

So if you are considering running for Mayor or City Council, I hope these reflections on some of the best but also hardest things about the job help you reach a decision.  It’s a great honor to try and serve all residents of the city and such a rewarding job in many more ways than I can describe here.

1 Comment on "COUNCIL VOICE: Why YOU should run for office"

  1. One bit of information that might be useful to people contemplating a council run: The salary for councilmembers is $10,000 per year.

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