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BEACHCOMBER: Dos & Don'ts for New Elected Officials

  • By David Barron

By David Barron
Over the years I’ve collected many “dos and don’ts” for elected officials and people in leadership roles. Voters in local cities recently elected or elected new council members. The new council people may be strictly amateurs and the older hands may be too self-confident.

The most important one is to remember to thank people who help you achieve your goals or just for showing up at the meeting. Thank them publicly!
Now that you are elected, you need to dress properly. Always check the mirror when you leave the house. Make sure your slip is not showing, your hair is combed and everything is zipped up. Do this even though you may just be going to the market to get a quart of milk!
Memorize names because people expect you will remember them – even if you haven’t seen them in two years. That’s because they see you frequently at special events, and maybe on TV and feel they are your friends, although you may not remember them.
When considering a proposed action, get all your basic questions answered before hand. The public expects you will have done your homework, so don’t waste our time asking obvious questions. (Let the staff describe the project or proposal.)
Do listen to people and give them feedback to make sure you understand them, whether or not you agree with them.
Do be ready with an answer when someone asks you why you are having a political fund raiser, even though you just got elected (ie. Got to pay the campaign loan..”) Or if election is still a couple of years why you need the money now? (“Got to prepare….” )
Don’t correct or criticized the public or staff members at public meetings. You’ll never win back their confidence.
Don’t act like the council meeting is a courtroom. It is a community meeting and treat people accordingly.
Sometimes speakers have limited public speaking ability or may be emotionally charged. Sometimes the government’s bureaucratic process can be complex. Some times the speaker may have incomplete or incorrect information about what is going on.
Don’t frown or use body language that demonstrates your personal feelings. I remember one city council member who use to pull back their chair, cross their arms and roll their eyes up when they didn’t like what they were hearing from the staff or public.
Don’t hold grudges forever. Someone who disagreed with you one year may be a supporter when you achieve common ground.
Don’t try to impose your favorite things such as color, flowers, architecture and style. I remember once when a council member said they liked a certain color; all of a sudden new paint jobs were in that color. (Sometimes staff goes overboard in attempting to please an elected official.)
Most of this is just common sense, but even I sometimes don’t use common sense and let my emotions and likes and dislikes take over. 

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