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Local elections matter

by Michael Maisel

Our children were preschoolers when we moved to New Jersey. I started attending Board of Education meetings and was not happy. Most decisions were made based on cost, not need and benefit to students and teachers. The majority of board members were some of the largest landowners in the town, and I quickly figured out their mantra — don’t spend money on anything you don’t need and keep taxes low. The Township Committee, Planning and Zoning Boards were similarly composed and operated. “Progressive” members were vastly outnumbered.

Friends and other parents of school-aged children were also unhappy with the Board of Education. The district had voted to sell bonds for a Middle School, but the Board had not acted on it. Parents were concerned the bonding authority would soon expire, and with it our chances for more appropriate K-5 and 6-8 buildings. We agreed we needed to elect someone to change the makeup of the Board so we could move forward with a badly needed new school.

For these and other reasons, I ran against a 25-year incumbent, the board president at the time. My friends and I went door to door, dropping off flyers and information about the standards of education for middle school-aged children. On Election Day, after the polls closed, we gathered in the school gym to await the results. I lost by 16 votes.

The defeat was a victory in disguise, because it showed parents that change was possible and our middle school was not lost. The next year, I was elected convincingly to the Board. Soon, the selling of bonds to build a new middle school was on the agenda. I was proud to cast the deciding vote to move forward with the bonding and build the middle school. Both our sons graduated from the new Pond Road Middle School.

Why local elections matter

My turn in local government mirrors the experience of public officeholders in Brunswick County and across the country. If you want to change the way we’re governed at the local level, you should get involved, or consider running for office. Here’s why:

Local governments directly impact our quality of life — Where do you go when your neighbor puts up an ugly fence that’s encroaching on your property? Who takes care of trash and recycling collection? Who creates and maintains parks, bike paths and recreational facilities?

Local governments are transparent and accessible — Elected officials are your neighbors who are giving their time to your community. They want to hear from you. Their meetings are local and easy to attend. You can comment during open sessions and address your local elected officials directly.

Local governments are grassroots democracy — They’re accountable to their constituents. They offer a unique opportunity for citizens to actively participate in the decision-making process, promote civic engagement and shape their communities.

Getting involved is easy:

  • Sign up for your local government’s email list to receive meeting notices and other important information.

  • Take the time to look at the meeting agendas and supporting information for issues that matter to you.

  • Attend a meeting and voice your concerns or support.

  • If you’re not comfortable speaking in an open forum, email your local officials. Almost all have email addresses on their official website.

  • Campaign for issues and candidates you support, oppose those you don’t. It’s your right and you are contributing to important local public dialogue.

  • Run for local elected office. If you want to make a larger impact on your community and the issues that matter to you, serve in your local government.


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