Filings for the April municipal election end Jan. 19. I suspect that for most people, this is an issue that simply is of no interest — as it used to be for me.
The election encompasses quite a bit of local control of municipalities with seats on city councils and boards of alderman. Depending on the year, mayors are part of the election. Also on the ballot will be many board positions throughout the counties, including school boards, ambulance districts and 911, along with the board of health and others.
At the date of this writing, one person has filed for election to the St. Francois County Health Board. With several of the positions open, if they do not have enough eligible candidates to file for those positions, the county commission will have to appoint members to the board. On some of the boards, this is quite often the case.
Along with many others, I have often complained about how things are done in our area. However, as part of my work in covering various government entities, I have developed a greater appreciation for how government works — and how it doesn’t work.
One of the problems faced with governance in local situations is that quite often your decisions are made for you — whether you like it or not. A first potential problem is that these boards are often regulated in some part by state statute or federal law. Caution should be made by those candidates that promise that they will “use common sense” in decisions that will be made if they are elected.
When questioning why the county commission makes a decision that appears dubious, St. Francois County Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher has stated to the effect that the questioner is confusing common sense and governance; they are rarely the same thing.
Another serious problem with making local decisions is directly impacted by funding. It varies with any given entity the percentage of state and federal funding involved, but a certain amount of many projects or programs come from grants provided by the state or federal governments. If you think that all of these expenditures come solely from local sales and property taxes, you can wise up now.
The problem with funding from upstream is that you follow their rules to receive the funding. I joke with people that if the county receives funds from the state of Missouri to install a new sidewalk around the courthouse and the courthouse burns down, the county will still install the sidewalk around a vacant lot.
That is what the grant is for, and that is what will happen. It will look insane, but that is how it works. From where I sit, it is sometimes comical to observe the opinionated out there accuse a local official of being incompetent or crooked for following the rules.
To the point, I would have thought that with this last year’s fiascos, the citizens in general would have realized the importance of serving on these local boards. Previously, who paid much attention to the local health or ambulance board? These boards are the first line of control of local institutions.
Now let me to make something clear. Although it can make more exciting news copy and crazy headlines, I am certainly not condoning the idea of reviving the atmosphere of bleacher braying on the outside and educated arrogance on the inside.
I am also not in favor of having citizens with attitudes newly elected just to create unnecessary chaos within a local school board or any of these other institutions. However, a little more diversity of opinion on a board with a little more understanding of all sides of an issue might just lead to better solutions and better governance.
Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org