Local government offices in search of candidates
Posted: February 8, 2011
There are more than 5,300 units of local government in Pennsylvania, although not all of them are municipalities or school districts. Some municipalities are small populations. There are 501 school districts in the state too. Yet every municipality and school board has offices to fill. In some municipalities there are offices that do not have candidates on the ballot. We’re talking about council members, township supervisors, school board directors, auditors, tax collectors, and other offices.
Sometimes a person can win the office simply by organizing write-in votes during the election. If no candidate is elected, the governing body will have to appoint someone to fulfill the duties of the position. But the path to office usually begins with a nominating petition to put your name on the primary ballot.
So what do you need to do if you’re thinking about running for local office? First learn about your own municipality. Identify the offices for which there will be an election. Find out what tasks the officers are responsible for.
Talk with your family. Many of these offices require night meetings including workshops, committee meetings and hearings in addition to regular monthly meetings. Is your family supportive of your commitment? How will your job, its hours and responsibilities, fit with the requirements of a local government office? How do you feel about constituents complaining to you when they see you at the gas station or in the grocery store or calling you up at 10 p.m. to talk about an issue?
Talk to your county board of elections or check their websites. Lehigh County’s board of elections website has lots of useful information for would-be office seekers. As of the time I’m writing this, Northampton County’s board of elections has yet to update their website information, but a phone call will provide what you need to know. You will need to collect a specific number of names from registered voters in your district on petitions so your name appears on the primary ballot. You will need to file one or more financial disclosure statements and report campaign expenses. There are deadlines for all of these details. For instance, you may begin circulating a petition February 15; the last day to file petitions in March 8.
In the meantime, if you haven’t attended public meetings in your municipality or local school board, depending on which office you are interested in, make it a point to attend some of the meetings. You’ll learn about the current issues and observe some, but not all, of the things your local officials deal with.
Penn State Extension also offers programs for those Thinking about Running for Local Office.