What qualities make a good councilor?

Early voting for the Nov. 6 election starts on Monday. Check this link for the times and places. A forum for all the candidates for Town Council is this Tuesday starting at 6 p.m. in the Regional Middle School auditorium, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Check this link to find out when you can listen to the candidates from your district.

Here are some responses to the question, “What qualities will make for an effective Town Council member?” Feel free to add some in the comments section.

From Ira Bryck:

Calm, common sense, pragmatism without ideology, a quick study, curiosity about the people, history, and geography of the Town, some experience building structures of accountability from scratch, the willingness to listen, an ability to balance private and public lives, some attention to personal health, the capacity to “stay within oneself” when things get frantic….

The ability to engage in collaborative, robust, creative, curious and practical discussions; great at drilling down to root problems; consider unintended consequences and be able to both disagree reasonably and work as an effective body. Team players who don’t demonize, who understand that innovation comes from combining ideas and that we are all neighbors in a small town.

From Johanna Neumann:

Is there evidence that a candidate is flexible and open to new ideas, or are they already entrenched and unwilling to budge? Are they single-issue leaders, or do they view town issues in multiple dimensions? Are they willing to set aside their personal preferences in favor of the greater good?

From Steve Schreiber:

A record of voting. Is there are record of the candidate’s position on important issues? The record can be on Town Meeting, on boards and committees, neighborhood associations, faculty senates, etc.

A record of civic engagement. College admissions officials are wary of applicants who suddenly become interested in community service during the senior year of high school. Amherst voters should be similarly cautious.

Ability to connect the dots. The town government is a subdivision of the state. Amherst’s goals are restrained and encouraged by a complicated network regional, state, and federal laws. The goal of becoming a zero-energy community is best accomplished with cooperation of organizations larger than us.

And from Nick Grabbe:

Does a candidate have knowledge of town government or the ability to quick-study it? About half the candidates have experience in Town Meeting, and that’s a plus. I think we want fresh, new faces on the Town Council as well as familiar ones.

Does a candidate work well with others, especially those with whom one disagrees? Collegiality is crucial. While district councilors should speak up on neighborhood issues, the ability to compromise and function well with the other councilors will be a valuable skill.

Does a candidate have the time to put into the work? Being on the council will be like a part-time job, and those who don’t do their homework will be easy to identify. Candidates with full-time jobs may need a support system to do the job well.

Can a candidate keep lots of details in his or her head? Decisions on the Town Council should be made on the basis of facts, and councilors will be bombarded with them. Candidates should have the patience and brainpower to sift through and retain many policy details.

Is a candidate open-minded and able to articulate nuanced opinions? Beware a candidate who thinks that something is all good or all bad. Look for candidates who are open to persuasion and willing to adjust their opinions when they receive new information.

Is a candidate committed to public participation and diversity? District councilors should be willing to spend time listening to their constituents, and all of them should be able to respect the views of residents with whom they disagree.

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