The New Year brings a changing of the guard in municipal government throughout Utah, and this new generation of civic leaders will have its plate full with a number of critical challenges.
Eight of Salt Lake County’s 16 cities have new mayors. In Davis County, 10 of 15 municipalities have also handed mayoral reigns to new people. In most places, the makeup of city councils has changed significantly as a result of the Nov. 5 elections.
Such turnover is healthy. New leaders bring fresh eyes and new energy to the task, though many will have tough shoes to fill. In Murray for example, Mayor Dan Snarr has stepped aside after a 16-year run characterized by a hands-on management style and a fixation on the minutiae of civic administration. He is recognizable among Murray residents for his flamboyant mustache and a willingness to do things such as pick up gardening tools to help a resident clean up a yard not in compliance with city codes.
There is an aphorism credited to former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill that explains why people like Mayor Snarr tend to be re-elected multiple times – “All politics is local.” Indeed, few things are as pressing in the minds of voters as those tangibles that directly affect their daily lives. Is the garbage picked up? Are potholes repaired? Are zoning ordinances enforced, stray animals rounded up and playgrounds kept in good order?
When such things don’t go well, local leaders are the immediate recipients of their constituents’ wrath. Just ask those at City Hall in Cottonwood Heights whose phones rang incessantly when a private contractor failed to adequately remove snow from residential streets during a pre-Christmas storm.
Aside from the daily chores of local government, municipal leaders also have big-picture responsibilities. They are charged with managing long-term growth, nurturing a sufficient tax base and grappling with issues such as environmental quality and mass transportation, which might be outside the direct sphere of any city, but which require every entity’s participation in seeking solutions.
Those who choose to take on such responsibility often do so out of a sense of civic duty, not because government work is a road to personal prosperity. They see how individual public servants can make a major difference in the quality of life in a given jurisdiction, and they embrace that as the context for their service.
The most effective local leaders are those who view their labor as service to their neighbors. We hope these new municipal leaders are disposed to that notion, and recognize there is no more important place to serve than at those most basic levels of government.