Late August is a telling time in city politics.
It's the time, every other year, when those critical of City Council's actions have a choice to make: Keep complaining from the sidelines or jump into the fray by running for elected office.
This year, that choice could have major implications. Four of the council's seven seats are up for grabs, and none of the incumbents have committed to running again. Considering that the open seats include all those held by the council's pro-growth, pro-business faction, should those people choose not to run again or lose to new candidates, the outcome of this election truly could change the course of city government.
However, history indicates that very few fresh faces will take advantage of the opportunity to become intimately involved in steering the direction of our community.
While we applaud the activism that exists in our community, it usually seems to extend only to letter-writing campaigns, angry public meetings and other intense but short-lived efforts to force change. It usually stops where the long, low-paying hours of public office start. But it is by holding public office that people, or the interests groups they represent, have the most direct means of influencing policy.
Our political system thrives on varied viewpoints and healthy debate at all levels -- from the people who attend public meetings to the boards and committees holding those meetings.
Choosing not to participate in the election process is a missed opportunity. Last year, during the county commissioners elections, for example, the Friends of the Justice Center missed its opportunity. With two of the three commissioner seats up for election, the group had a chance not only to fight the commissioners' decision-making process regarding the location of a new court facility, but become part of that process. But no one stepped forward as a candidate to represent that group's concerns, and two commissioners who had been loudly criticized in the community were re-elected easily.
Many people say they simply don't have the time to serve in an elected office. But when entire special-interest groups -- groups whose members have participated vigorously in the public debate about their issue -- cannot muster from their ranks even one person willing to take that next step for their cause, it calls into some question the strength of the group's conviction.
For those deterred by the thought of campaigning, myriad appointed boards exist in the city and county -- many of which struggle to find enough people to simply fill their seats -- addressing areas from parks and recreation to planning and land preservation.
Yes, elected offices are time-consuming and often thankless, but we hope to see more people willing to take the next step and become involved first-hand. And, no, we don't advocate for one-issue candidates, but rather for people whose passion for one issue may spur them to pursue office while also being knowledgable and willing to reach group consensus on the wide variety of challenges the city faces.
Aug. 22 is the deadline for potential City Council candidates to submit their petitions to the city clerk's office. So, for all those with passionate opinions about the way City Council deals with urban development, affordable housing, airline subsidies, building design, leash laws or whatever their touchstone issues may be, now is the time to decide whether the sidelines are really the best place to be.