My third grandfather settled in the Shenandoah Valley in the middle 1700’s and farmed there for over 40 years.  While researching his life I chanced upon the records of the local county court where I found that John was a Justice of the Peace several times over the years, usually only for a year at a time.  Researching a little deeper, it became apparent that the duties of Justice of the Peace was shared among several neighbors – each taking their turn.  Most of the entries are about being a witness for widows, reporting on the structural worthiness of bridges, and delivering notices of the court – nothing exciting or glorious – just routine actions that need to be taken care for the welfare of the local residents.  Someone had to do them, so the duties were shared so no one had to carry the burden excessively – after all, there were still fields to tend, animals to care for and all the other work that goes with being a farmer.

So everyone shared in carrying the burdens without penalizing any one person more than anyone else.  It also meant that everyone knew what the job entailed and what its limits were because everyone had their turn.  They were a community.

Today it’s far different.  Our local sheriff mentioned recently that he had been encouraging people he considered good, solid, responsible citizens to run for office in the local area.  The nearly universal response?  “I’ve have to be out of my mind!!!!”

I can understand the reluctance to stand for and serve in a public office.  Most local public positions are full-time masquerading as part time.  There are many responsibilities and duties.  There are too many time demands with meeting people, raising money, asking for votes – not to mention actually serving in the position.  And you usually are trying to work a real job, spend time with family, sleep, and have a little fun – and serving will cut into all of that.  This, by the way, is almost verbatim the response of my barber who had been told she should run for a local public office.

So why would anyone want to hold public office?

  • For some it has to be prestige and the glory – there are too many stories of elected officials acting as if they had divine right to rule for this not to be a major reason.
  • For some it is an opportunity to greater fame and fortune- you can come up with your own list.
  • For some it is because there are issues that they feel so strongly about that they want to make the decisions or implement to actions to create their version of utopia – These are the ones that usually are “one-note Johnny’s” hammering away on one subject to the exclusion of anything or anyone else.
  • For some it is the opportunity to serve – to give back – to help their neighbors.  They aren’t passionate about issues but grounded in principles.  They seek the common good, not what’s best for their agenda.  These are the ones in the model of the pioneers – from the Pilgrims to the Wild West – they were there to build a better life but they participated in their community where they were needed.

It is easy to let someone else take the lead and just sit back and focus on our own petty concerns, but you are then letting someone else decided what your tomorrow will be.  If you trust that person to act as you would, that’s fine.  But what if they don’t or won’t?  What’s your recourse then?  Complaining may feel good but it rarely accomplishes anything.

For all the above reasons, and in spite of building a business, serving in a professional society, taking care of a house and yard, and spending time with my family, I have decided that I need to serve my neighbors by applying for a position on our local city council.

And, yes, I’m probably crazy.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.