Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 4:16 pm | Fair 70º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: Lompoc City Council Race Draws Fewer Candidates — Why?

This year’s slate of candidates for Lompoc City Council is unique — two are seeking the mayor’s post, which is fairly common, and three are seeking council seats, which is highly unusual.

The last time there were fewer than five hopefuls for roles as council members was in 2002, and the crowd is usually between 6-8 candidates.

Why the sudden loss of interest? Only the people who didn’t apply know the answer to that question, but let’s examine the process and what the job entails for clues.

First, the process. The path to election begins long before a candidate files their paperwork with the city clerk.

Most folks serve on one or more commissions or committees to get the feel of how government works. They also attend or watch countless city council meetings to gain an understanding of the issues that face our city.

Then there is the inevitable attendance at numerous social events in the months leading up to decision-making time. A potential candidate wants to feel out support for their chance at success.

A winning candidate will develop a large and diverse constituency and try to develop a sense of trust among as many voters as possible. Its a tightrope act because there are nearly as many concerns in the community as there are voters, so trying to figure out the winning approach can be tricky.

Promise too much, or worse yet promise things that anyone following politics closely knows you can’t possibly achieve, and you may wind up losing the very people you are trying to impress.

When you finally make the decision to file your papers you march down to City Hall and pick up a booklet of candidate materials, which includes a bunch of forms and an estimate of the “filing fee.” That’s right: running for office isn’t free.

The filing fee is applied if you want to include a 200 to 400-word candidate statement on the sample ballot. If you chose not to do this, many folks won’t know what you want to do and will overlook you on the ballot.

It’s best to have that statement in front of everyone when they decide who to vote for. The City wants a $800 deposit and has historically refunded about half of it.

After all this is over, you now need to prepare mailers, door hangers and yard signs to announce to the world that your name is on the ballot. All this costs money, and most folks ask for contributions to support their campaigns.

OK so you won; now to the job. Just sitting on the council dais for 3-6 hours twice a month is only a small part of the job.

The people who voted for you expect you to know in excruciating detail what is being discussed so you can make a responsible decision. You can’t please everyone, so you have to be equipped with all the information you can get before you take your seat and press the red or green light to indicate your vote.

This means you have to read the staff report carefully and formulate your questions. These reports can sometimes be confusing because they are written in government speak and key points are frequently buried within the body of one or more lengthy paragraphs rather than being expressed as independent thoughts.

When you have your list ready, it’s always a good idea to discuss any questions you have with the staff to get clarification. This process will hone your list down to the important issues.

It’s never a good idea to ambush the staff during a council meeting with a technical question. Don’t hesitate to ask the question, just let them know before the meeting so they can have a thoughtful and accurate response.

During the meeting you will have to have a thick skin. People who address the council don’t always agree with your position on an issue.

I have listened to public testimony during over 100 Planning Commission meetings, and I have found that the public comment period, especially on complex issues, frequently produces a discussion that changes my outlook on the item being discussed.

On controversial issues you are guaranteed to make at least half the folks mad with the decision you make, and they will discuss this with you after the meeting, sometimes several times. The thick skin helps, but a reasonable explanation of the deciding factors works best.

So, why didn’t more folks apply for this dream job? Well the simple fact is that a large majority of people work for a living and many commute up to two hours a day on top of the hours they work. They also have families and cherish the time they have with their spouse and kids. In a nut shell, they just don’t have the time.

Or, did one of the other candidates convince others not to run thinking that this would benefit his cause?

Then again maybe it’s the public perception of politicians that keeps them away. The result is that this year Lompoc has fewer choices, and I feel that it is a loss to the community.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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