(the elected official) goes on to take positions and promote policies that some citizens don't like. The citizen response is to berate that elected representative in public and threaten them with defeat when re-election time comes. Now the citizens who elected this person, rather than engage in any sort of meaningful discussion with the elected official, focus on their anger and pounce on anything that might make that official look bad--even if it means altering the facts just a bit. The irate citizen winds up voting for someone new in the next election just to get the incumbent out of office. Their vote is against someone rather than in favor of someone else with no knowledge of how local government works..
"Throw the bums out" can seem like a reasonable position, but it's a very lazy one. It assumes that the unknown entity is better suited for the job than the person who has held the office for 2-4 years and may have spent a good deal of time and energy learning to be a good respresentative. Might that new, inexperienced person hold some beliefs with which you disagree? What will you do then? Toss him/her out and put in another inexperienced candidate? There is no elected representative--or person, for that matter--with whom you agree 100% of the time. I may even put those odds at 75%.
Hopefully you can see that this can be an endless cycle of futility. It also lets the citizen take the easy way out because all they have to do is complain and vote. But a citizen's responsibility does not begin and end at the ballot box. Even if you are surrounded by elected officials with whom you disagree, there are more constructive ways of making them aware of your feelings and ideas. You may even be able to find some common ground with this heretofore despicable politician and actually help accomplish something for the benefit of our city.
Personally engage your elected officials: A huge advantage of living in a small community like Southport is that it's easy to meet with your local representatives. If you're shy, e-mail and telephone are available but nothing beats a face to face chat. You can also organize a group of like-minded citizens for this purpose. If you enter that engagement with an open mind you'll often see that you both have the same goals in mind regarding Southport and how to make it an even better place to live. You may also agree to disagree, but at least you will have made your points clear to the official and he/she has a chance to provide information to you about your concerns. The official can explain how you can become involved in the issues you feel most strongly about--whether or not you agree with him/her. You can also seek out another representative who might share your views. Southport has 6 aldermen, and therefore 6 different opinions and ideas on how to solve the city's problems. Engage each of them and see if you can find a way to achieve your goals with the existing leaders.
Seek a committee appointment: Southport has a number of committees, commissions and boards with positions for citizens. Three of them (The ABC Board, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment) are composed entirely of citizens. Our current committees include Beautification, Electric, Sewer and Water, Transportation and Roads, Fire, Tourism and Economic Development, Forestry, Parks & Recreation, Ft. Johnston, and an ad hoc group formed to revise Southport's animal control ordinances for better protection from pet abuse and negligence. We also have one position on the Brunswick County Airport Commission, and the North Carolina 4th of July Celebration uses many local volunteers for setting policies, planning, and producing our city's biggest event . If you feel there should be a committee in an area where none exists now, present your idea to the Board of Aldermen and see if you can get it officially recognized. Chances are good that you can help get it formed and functional.
If you're interested in joining a committee, board or commission please contact our City Clerk, Regina Alexander, in person at City Hall, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 457-7929.
Work through your local non-profit group: Many non-profit groups have donated or volunteered on projects for which the city lacks resources. Non-profits can also pursue grants and help the city get the resources it needs, for instance, to spruce up Waterfront Park--or get some decent restrooms there. We're a small town with very limited resources and potential streams of income. There are a number of projects that are ideally suited to one or more of the local clubs and organizations. Even if you're not officially organized, there is a way for any person or group to assist the city. Think about it and approach one of your elected officials, or present your idea at the Board of Aldermen's meeting by getting on the agenda. This can be done by contacting our City Clerk, Regina Alexander (see above for contact information). The request should be 2 weeks before the scheduled meeting with all relevant written materials provided no later than one week before.
I have not covered all the possibilities for citizen involvement, but hopefully you can spot the pattern: work with the city and the elected officials, not against them. Be constructive in your approach, not destructive. After a year in which communication and cooperation among the members was lacking, The Board of Aldermen have taken up the mantle of working together on our common goals rather than bickering over relatively minor issues. We certainly do not agree on everything, but we owe it to our citizens to work as a team. It is my greatest hope that the good citizens of Southport will join us.