I can’t count how many times that I have heard some version of, “Why would anyone want to serve on City Council?” in recent months. I think most of us would agree that serving in local government is a relatively thankless job. The two vacant council seats that went unopposed speak for itself. Collectively, the Council dedicates hours and hours of time on issues that affect the lives of citizens and businesses, listening and researching every possible angle before making decisions. 99 times out of 100, their efforts go unnoticed. On occasion that their service is acknowledged, it is usually in the form of criticism. Unlike state or nationally elected officials, separated from the public they serve in distance and/or access; members of City Council are subject to public scrutiny by their neighbors and friends, anonymous jabs on public forums, and listening to the concerns of their constituents at any time or place. This is the reality of serving in local government.
Mayor James White was elected to office shortly after I was hired by the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce. I was new to Chamber work and admittedly, had limited understanding about the inner workings of local government, and it showed! His reputation as former Police Chief turned Mayoral elect preceded him and I was full of anxiety when meeting him for the first time. For whatever formidable force I expected to find in Jim, I instead met a humble, intelligent, and gracious man with a sincere eagerness to serve and lead. As it turns out, my first impression of his character have proven to be spot on over the years. He has embraced, honored, and cherished his role as Mayor. Among his strengths was that he was intentional about being visible and accessible to members of the community. He has been a fixture at public events like the summer concert series; not hiding out in the back, instead choosing a location that is centrally located, and walking around. He has helped foster a strong economic climate by officiating ribbon cuttings for over 150 businesses and has sought out opportunities to engage and advocate for local businesses. Even on issues that the Chamber and the City didn’t see eye to eye, Mayor White was fair, respectful and always willing to listen to another perspective.
Thanks to Mayor White, I have had the benefit of growing in my understanding of local government under outstanding leadership and a thriving city and in turn, have developed a deep respect for those who choose to serve. Equally deserving of acknowledgement are the spouses and families of Council Members, who are in the spotlight by association. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Jim’s wife, Lucy and their adult children, and there is no doubt that community pride and spirit of service is a family affair.