Editorial: A lot is expected of those elected
Today at the polls, voters will re-elect many town officials, some of whom have served their towns and/or school districts faithfully for many years. A fair number, though, are new to town politics and there will be a steep learning curve as our representatives work to keep municipal and school district business operating smoothly in the transition. The newcomers will be looking to fellow officials and administrators for guidance in navigating the waters, and we hope everyone will get off to good start.
In the candidate profiles we published last week, we heard from those running in the contested races about the top issues facing their constituents and how the candidates intend to tackle them. Having a platform and following through is important, but once elected it’s incumbent upon town and school district officials to represent all the voters and to seek solutions that serve the greater good. To do that, our representatives must be willing to keep an open mind and to listen to many voices. Being an elected official requires leadership, a willingness to work with people who in some cases take the opposite stance and the ability to get beyond our one’s personal interests.
The public also expects its elected officials to steep themselves in town or school district business, with attendance at board and committee meetings and important events as well as general accessibility. It’s not enough to simply hold a seat in order to drive a personal agenda with votes on key issues. Knowing when there’s a conflict of interest with one’s own economic or other personal interests will be key.
There’s also the issue of transparency. The public has a right to certain information, which is codified by law in RSA 91-A, the state’s Right-to-Know law. But following the law and fulfilling one’s obligation as a public official in the area of transparency are two different things. Knowing the issues our leaders are facing and the positions they are taking with regard to them is every citizen’s right; that’s the only way the political process can remain open. Towns and school districts, and the decisions made with regard to them at every step of the process, are not exempt from public scrutiny the way they would be in the private sector.
We have no doubt that the votes will yield good choices in the people elected to serve in 2013, but the work of maintaining public confidence doesn’t end with getting elected. It’s an ongoing project and practice, one that may be overlooked at times as the work piles up, but one that deserves constant attention.
There are trainings available for New Hampshire public officials and we hope our new officers will take advantage of them. Learning the responsibilities of public officials, however, is not the same as putting them into practice, and it might feel like a bit of a juggling act for the first year or so.
It was heartening to hear from Jaffrey’s new town manager, David R. Caron of Belmont, on Monday that approachability and transparency are two of his top priorities coming into the position. We hope all of our towns and school districts will see the value in maintaining these principles as the new leadership settles into the year ahead.