Having followed the Lewisville City Council and city elections for years, it has become clear to me that it helps the discussion to lay out some framework on what types of qualifications make a good council member. As candidates announce their campaigns, we can examine them in light of these qualifications rather than the more squishy criteria of who we like, and who is most popular.
So here's my current list of what I consider to be qualifications:
• Has high intellectual capacity, and able to look beyond the superficial and quickly understand the nuance and complexity of the issues that face government.
• Has lived in the City of Lewisville a sufficient length of time to understand the demographics, the trends, the history, and the shared values of our citizens. Definitely not less than 5 years, but preferably more than 10.
• Has an up-to-date voter registration and a good history of voting in all elections, especially local ones, which evidence a long-term concern for local issues.
• Has consistently followed City Council actions, attended meetings, workshops, budget hearings, and retreats. Given that all of the meetings are open to the public, a candidate should have actively attended meetings-- not only to stay up-to-date on the issues frequently discussed, but to show a dedication and availability that will be required once they get on Council.
• Has demonstrated leadership by serving on one or more of the City's boards or commissions.
• Has demonstrated commitment to the City by volunteering for, or supporting one or more of the City's non-profit or civic groups.
• Is more dedicated to the City of Lewisville than to a political party or ideology. Partisan politics have ruined Washington and Austin. They cloud judgement and make it hard to work together for pragmatic solutions.
• Is not using the office for personal achievement or gain, or as a stepping stone to higher office. Time and time again we see politicians who see municipal service as nothing more than a platform for grandstanding and demagoguery. These people waste city resources and create strife, then run for higher office, leaving others to deal with the consequences and cleanup.
• Understands the relationship between city services, property values and quality of life.
• Demonstrates compassion for mankind by charity.
• Lives to a high standard of ethics in all that they do.
• Pays their taxes. The biggest part of the City Council's role is to set the budget and corresponding tax rate each year. It is hypocrisy for a council member not to be current on their city taxes.
• Puts the health and safety of the citizens above all else.
• Capable of listening to multiple points of view, and ensuring that all concerns are heard and addressed.
• Dedicated to seeking truthful information-- not just the information that may support their particular view on something.
• Doesn't have character flaws or a severe or untreated mental illness that would interfere with or distract from accomplishing the City's business.
• The candidate should not have an axe to grind. In other words, he or she should not be running because of a strong feeling or passion about one issue, or because the council ticked you off about something. The person MUST be able to put single issues behind them and focus on all the other issues that will come before them without having their judgment clouded by holding grudges over votes on the issue they feel strongest about. (Borrowed from Ken, below)
• Has the ability to understand the differences between local, state, and federal government issues, and work within the scope and constraints imposed on local government from above. (Borrowed from BC - via Facebook)
• Must be honest and truthful, and hold truthfulness as a strong personal value. Liars have no business in a position of public trust. Honesty is paramount.
I fully understand that not every candidate is going to meet up to all of these. In fact, there's a good chance that no candidate will meet all of these. But I think we need to look at them all in that light and choose the best when the time comes.
For the office of Mayor, specifically, the following additional qualifications help quite a bit:
• Outgoing personality.
• Ability to keep conversations on-topic and run a meeting efficiently
• Prior experience on City Council
• Negotiating experience, especially with large or complex deals
What I absolutely and unequivocally reject as criteria for electing a Council Member or Mayor:
• Race, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference
• Religious affiliation, church attendance, or lack of affiliation. Anyone can profess a belief, but actions speak louder than words. It is at worst bigoted, and at best mentally lazy to vote for someone because they follow the same theology as you do, or vote against them because they believe or worship differently than you.
• Political party affiliation or activism. Local government is non-partisan for a reason. Partisan issues typically have no outlet at the local level because local government is constrained by higher government. Further, hyper-partisanship is detrimental because it polarizes and divides people who need to be working together on solutions that satisfy a broad consensus.
What I think are disqualifiers:
• Being a liar. Someone who will lie for you will lie to you. There is no value to lying even when one thinks the end justifies the means, since a liar usually lies to himself about the end and the means.
• Having a recent or serious criminal record or pending criminal case. A lot of people make dumb decisions when they're young, or do something minor like get a traffic ticket, and that's not what I'm talking about.
• Running for personal or business gain. If you're in it to pad your resume, or get publicity for yourself or your business, then save everyone's time and find something else to do. You need to care about the City.
• Being a racist or a bigot. There is no place in government at all for anyone who looks down on people for their race, ethnicity, color, gender, or sexual orientation.
What are your thoughts? I want to hear them. Leave a comment.
First published 1/27/2011, updated and re-published 1/28/2015.
- The Public School Trustee's Pledge