Editorial: Some things we can do to make local leadership more attractive

In advance of every election, the Daily Herald issues recommendations on the candidates we think are best suited to serve on governing boards. The process can obscure an important point. While we may prefer certain candidates, we appreciate - and need - them all.

Especially at the local level - school boards, village boards, mayors, township and library offices and more - these are thankless jobs with little or no tangible reward and much responsibility and aggravation. People who step up for such an assignment deserve a particular measure of respect and gratitude.

But as our three-day series "Our Dwindling Democracy" has shown, there are fewer and fewer of them these days. The uneven balance between responsibility and reward no doubt naturally inhibits many potentially good leaders from seeking public office, so we are struck by some of the conditions that make these jobs even less attractive. We all should be talking - and doing something - about ways to create a more appealing, or at least less discouraging, balance. Actions such as:

• Simplifying the paperwork required to get on the ballot. In just the case of municipal offices, there are eight different - and often convoluted - standards for determining how many signatures a candidate needs on election petitions. Surely, there must be a standard that can apply for all candidates and be computed simply.

• Review technical challenges. Sure, we have to be able to assure that petitions are not forged, but disqualifying candidates for minor technical problems has become so easy that challenging petitions has become a routine way for candidates to rid themselves of opposition - and give voters fewer choices.

• Consolidate governments. We've made this case many times in arguing for more efficiency in government; it also would help avoid dispersing good candidates among too many leadership positions.

• Consider appointment rather than election of some offices. It's not right for every community and circumstance; in some cases, it could be downright bad. But in others, setting up library, parks and recreation, clerk or treasurer functions as departments under village or city auspices rather than as isolated elected offices could attract dedicated leaders, screened and selected for their background and expertise, while allowing just as much independence, transparency and responsiveness as presently.

• Consider smaller boards. Is three enough? Is seven too many? The question may depend on the job and the size of the community or district.

Serving on a school board, city council or library, park or township board will never be easy. It takes a special sense of duty to one's community and a willingness to steep oneself in the often tedious details and sometimes emotional conflicts that inherently accompany decisions that affect families, futures and quality of life. People willing to take on such duties are resources to be cherished - regardless of whether they're the ones we vote for or not - and we should do as much as we can to nurture their involvement.

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