I just reread an interesting book, “Leadership in a Small Town” by Aaron Wildavsky. It is a book about public policy decisions made in Oberlin, Ohio, from 1957 to 1961. It turns out that small towns work in remarkably similar ways regardless of location and time period.
I reread this book because it has many lessons to teach as we head into Pennsylvania’s local municipal elections in 2019. One of the takeaways from this book is that participation in local politics makes a big difference in shaping a community.
It is difficult to recruit people to run for council and mayor in boroughs in PA.
Why? Geographic constraints, global economic trends, population trends, older housing units, fears of alienating business customers, fear of criticism, time constraints and a belief that it makes no difference anyway, are often cited as reasons for not seeking local political office.
On the other hand, small towns offer a opportunity to make a big difference. For example, I served on Bedford Borough’s Council for 10 years or more. During that time, Council, with much help from the mayor, developed a proactive vision for the future that guided our decision making for many years. It led to financial support for Downtown Bedford Inc. and a great deal of private investment in the main street area; the Bedford Joint Municipal Authority and the Bedford Heritage Trail; a reduction in medical insurance costs for the Borough and its authorities; implementation of new retirement system that makes costs more predictable; consolidation of two authorities into one; and several other initiatives that are keeping Bedford viable.
But new challenges remain, in Bedford and in other boroughs and townships throughout the County. For example, in Bedford Borough, Council needs to address issues like substance abuse (it is no longer just a policing issue), deteriorating housing stock in certain sections of the Borough, how to make the town as a whole more visitor friendly, how to take advantage of state funds now available for intersection improvements and paving needs, zoning changes to facilitate new housing, possible sources of money to match grants, and so on.
Each community has its own issues. But each community can benefit from participation from people with a vision of what the future can be. Please consider running for a local political office. Particularly when asked.