Did you know that many of the below local elected positions are very powerful positions because they impact your daily life? Better yet, did you know that many of the below-elected positions are nonpartisan?
Unless you have been under a rock, you have witnessed the hot mess going on in Congress regarding selecting the speaker of the house. Now, although I have some important points I want to make regarding what we should learn from the fiasco, to remind you that we must shift just as much attention, if not more, to local politics. Here is a curated list of 11 local government positions to actively cast your ballot, and even consider running for.
School Board (EDUCATION)
School board members have power to make decisions on school policy, budgets, programming, resource allocation, curriculum, and faculty tenure and can have a dramatic impact on issues of equity and quality of the education provided in your schools. School boards hire the superintendent and sometimes have firing power over teachers and staff. School Boards can also draw school districts and sometimes create entirely new separate or splinter districts. These school district “secessions” are a force behind school segregation.
Sheriff (CRIMINAL JUSTICE)
While the role of a sheriff’s office varies considerably from state to state and even from county to county, sheriffs typically wield enormous power with little oversight. As elected officials, sheriffs should be accountable to their voters. Sheriffs can set arrest priorities, drive criminal investigations, execute search warrants, conduct asset forfeitures, establish use of force policies, and determine cooperation with ICE. Crucially, sheriffs often run local jails.
Prosecutor (CRIMINAL JUSTICE)
Prosecutors have discretion to determine whether a person is charged with a felony or misdemeanor and whether juveniles are treated as adults. They make recommendations on bail and pretrial detention, decide what evidence is shared with defendants, set the terms of plea bargains, and make recommendations on the severity of sentences. Their policies are linked to mass incarceration and racial disparities in criminal justice.
Trial Court Judge (JUDICIARY)
Local trial courts are where most criminal and civil cases are handled. These courts can be separated into divisions such as family, criminal, landlord/tenant, or general civil courts depending on the jurisdiction. In local trial court, judges and/or juries are charged with making a decision on a cased based on the evidence presented. Local judges are either elected or appointed depending on the state and jurisdiction. In 26 states, all local judges are elected, while 11 other states only elect some local judges. Eight states use partisan elections while 18 states use nonpartisan elections. Find out more about how local judges are selected in your state and jurisdiction here.
City Council (GOVERNANCE)
Sometimes called a Town Council or Board of Aldermen, a City Council acts as the legislative body of their municipality. The individual members of the Council are elected to office and tasked with representing their constituents. They have the power to review and approve the city budget, pass ordinances and resolutions, including criminal and civil laws and regulations, regulate public health and safety, establish tax rates, regulate land use through zoning laws, and represent the city at the state and federal level.
Mayors have varying levels of power and administrative authority depending on the city’s government. A mayor’s duties often include managing and preparing the city budget, overseeing daily operations, appointing advisory boards or commissions, enforcing legislation, and more. Mayors oversee the city’s main departments, including police, fire, education, housing, health, and sanitation. Crucially, mayors often appoint department heads who set policies and manage budgets for each of their agencies. Mayors often have final authority over fiscal issues and budgetary concerns.
County Board Supervisor (GOVERNANCE)
The County Board of Supervisors, also referred to as County Commissioners, County Executives, or Freeholders in some jurisdictions, oversee the operation of the county. Among many other things, they review, adjust, and adopt the county budget, set and levy taxes, adopt ordinances for the enforcement of county-wide actions, and represent county issues in front of state and federal legislative bodies. Crucially, counties are also responsible for registering voters and administrating elections.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner (INFRASTRUCTURE)
Planning and Zoning Commissions can be appointed or elected. They are a bodies that recommend the boundaries of zoning districts and regulations to be enforced to the town or city council. Their recommendations can decide who gets a permit to build in your neighborhood, why businesses are in one area and parks are in another, how your communities are zoned, and the availability and location of affordable housing in your town or county, which can drive segregation via the geographic concentration of housing on the basis of race and poverty.
Public Works Commissioner (INFRASTRUCTURE)
Local governments usually administer water supply, sewage treatment, garbage disposal, recycling programs, and other non-optional environmental services, including a playing a key role in setting the rates for these essential public services. Local governments also often regulate and manage utilities. In many jurisdictions, these environmental services are managed Public Works Commissions or Boards. Others have positions and boards dedicated to specific functions like Soil and Water Commissions, Conservation Boards, Water Boards, and others. Many people struggle to pay for these services, which can lead to service cutoffs and property foreclosures.
A City Comptroller essentially acts as a city’s accountant or chief financial officer. They audit city agencies, approve city contracts, and invest the municipal pension funds. In some jurisdictions, they also act as the external auditor for the government budget. In New York and other jurisdictions that have comptrollers, their role acts as a checks and balances system for the mayor and city council.
Commissioner of Revenue (FINANCE)
In Virginia, the Commissioner of Revenue is responsible for implementing and administering the tax policies set by the city’s governing body. They determine what is taxable within the locality of the Commonwealth and are responsible for state tax returns. They have the power to summon taxpayers, issue statutory assessments, audit taxpayer returns, and file civil and criminal proceedings against taxpayers for not filing tax returns or providing information.
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