The Power and Influence of Involvement
I am a single mother of two and the editor/publisher of a monthly HOA magazine for Tuscawilla, a 4,500-home, planned community in Winter Springs, where I have lived for 25 years.
I am also a Winter Springs City Commissioner, which, I guess, labels me as a “politician.” Since politicians are ranked near the bottom of most favorability polls these days, and because the theme of this article asks what I consider to be “best practices” in my chosen field, I checked a dictionary to see how folks like me are defined.
The dictionary describes a politician as “one who is actively involved in politics.” On one hand, that could mean someone who uses his/her political position and influence to help constituents. On the other, it might be someone who carves out a permanent, even profitable career by getting and staying elected. I suggest towns like mine are better off with the first option.
What transforms private citizens into public servants? For me, it was volunteerism. Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I left Boston and my career in property management and moved to Winter Springs, a quiet, bedroom community just north of Orlando in Seminole County.
Widowed three years later, I was forced to re-assess my quality of life. I began working at an elementary school as a counselor. I volunteered in my neighborhood, first on the board of the Tuscawilla HOA, and then as its volunteer president. I also found myself the new editor/publisher of Tuscawilla Today, a monthly magazine reaching 9,000+ residents and dedicated to informing readers and solving problems. It was a natural incubator for a citizen politician.
I decided to run for Winter Springs City Commission, in part, because I appreciated, and still do, the unique quality of government transparency introduced by City Manager Kevin Smith — from broad strokes like zero-based budgeting that helped rescue the city from the recession, to a simple but meaningful decision to include the city’s checkbook on its public website for the community to view.
While some political “newbies” believe running for local office is just a stepping stone to a loftier platform where earth-altering decisions are made, I am convinced the most important calling of public service remains with citizen politicians like those on the Winter Springs City Commission, who listen to the voices of their neighbors and act on their behalf. The job has its costs — most local politicians tack on their public service to full time jobs, sacrificing hours of personal life in the bargain — but there are countless rewards. Let me offer an example:
Small Causes With Big Impacts
An elderly couple in Tuscawilla faced losing several large trees in their backyard because the power company ordained the trees were too close (48 feet) to transmission lines. The potential removal was compounded by the fact the couple’s bird feeders were attached to the trees. A frantic neighbor called asking for help. As a week of negotiations dragged on, the couple sat, each day, all day, in their backyard in silent protest, preventing the power company from cutting down the trees that were now too close to humans. The power company even removed the bird feeders from the trees in preparation for a cut that never came.
The bird feeder rescue may not have rivaled world peace as a seminal event, but it is the kind of small-but-real challenge citizen politicians respond to every day in every town in America. And it should inspire rather than discourage people to stand for public office.
In my judgment, deciding to become a political “lifer” does not accurately define most elected officials who, with the support of dedicated, professional staffs, serve the myriad of smaller communities that dot the I-4 Corridor. I suspect most private citizens in this country who seek local public office enter the fray enthusiastically, determined to make their town the best it can possibly be. They simply want to make a difference, to be a “politician” in the truest sense of best practices. If that sounds Pollyanna, so be it.
Pam Carroll is the deputy mayor of Winter Springs, Florida and editor/publisher of Tuscawilla Today (Monthly HOA magazine serving 10,000 residents of one of Central Florida’s largest planned communities). email@example.com. (407) 221-1435.