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Our Views: Because it matters

Tuesday’s elections perhaps aren’t exciting, but the results will affect your city’s future

POSTED: November 1, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Why should you go vote on Tuesday? After all, these are just municipal elections, hardly big races for glamorous positions.

A year ago, our nation elected a new president, and Georgians chose a senator and members of Congress. Turnout was impressive, with long lines for early voting and busy polls on Election Day.

Next year, we’ll choose a new governor, along with other state officers and members of the U.S. House and state legislature. All are partisan races with lots of media attention and mud-splattering TV ads, the kind that draw big voter turnouts.

But this year’s city elections are easy to brush aside as mundane. A school board race here, a city council spot there, maybe a mayor or two. A couple of referendums and a few ballot questions. No wonder turnout is expected to be light. Why should you bother?

Because of this: Those seemingly humdrum local races ultimately can have more affect on your lives than the big-money campaigns ever will.

Presidents and members of Congress play a role in foreign relations and big domestic policy decision. Governors and state leaders push laws that affect roads, businesses and other community needs.

But local officials make decisions daily that reach you where you live in your neighborhood, your children’s schools, all the way down to that magical kitchen table that pundits like to imagine as the center of family life.

The people you will vote for Tuesday are your neighbors. They don’t travel in motorcades surrounded by bodyguards. If you call their office or e-mail them, they are likely to answer. Their kids go to school with your kids. They can be seen in your church, the local football game, the dentist’s office. You might bump into them at the grocery store or the movie theater.

These are not the distant celebrity politicians you see on TV chatting with Oprah or Letterman. They are we the people, regular folks like the rest of us.

And because of this, they can have a profound impact on your life. Their job is to provide public leadership in our hometowns to the few thousand of us who happen to live on the same patch of ground. No, they don’t decide key world events, but what they do matters. They make sure the trash gets picked up, that water flows out of the pipes and that our streets are safe. It is not glamorous, but the day-to-day needs that local governments provide are vital to us in many ways.

Take the local school board. Four people are vying for two spots on Gainesville’s Board of Education, 40 percent of the five-member panel. If you’ve ever complained about how schools are run and how boards spend your tax money, this is your chance to have an impact.

Back in Washington, the president and the Education Secretary speak of generalities in U.S. education policy. In Atlanta, state legislators and the school superintendent set policies and curricula for the state’s schools and budget money to be sent to each system. But once that money comes here, it often is up to the school boards to decide how it is used, for bricks or books, teachers or technology.

One recent example: Gainesville has a number of schools in need of new roofs, leading to flooding during recent heavy rains. City school officials have been scrambling to find the money to fix them, including using leftover SPLOST funds from the construction of Gainesville Middle School.

Fixing leaky school roofs won’t be the topic of discussion on Meet the Press, Face the Nation or any of the cable TV or radio talkfests. But if water is dripping on your kids’ heads as they sit in class, it matters to you.

Flowery Branch has two contested races for three open spots on its city council, with no incumbents running. If you ever wanted a chance to bring fresh faces and ideas into a government body, here it is.

In Gainesville, voters have an opportunity to determine how their city’s government will be structured in the future. A pair of nonbinding referendums gives you a voice in whether the city should directly elect a mayor and school board chairman. Though a "yes" vote either way would just be the first step toward such a system, a strong showing would persuade state legislators and city leaders to begin moving in that direction.

Other counties will vote on special sales tax measures (Dawson, White) and the city of Clarkesville will decide whether to allow sales of liquor by the drink

All this is why residents of local cities with contested races should take time to vote. You should get to know the candidates, the experience they bring and what their plans are to make your lives and towns better. Once they are elected, keep track of their performances to see if they lived up to their promises. By staying involved after the election, you can let the people you voted for know what you want.

It all starts on Tuesday. Take pride in making your voice count. Anyone can vote for president or governor. It takes a truly committed, civic-minded individual to take the time to vote for the nuts-and-bolts workings of city government. Go do your part and wear that "I Voted" sticker proudly.



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