The Power of Participation: Why Local Elections and Civic Engagement Matter

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By Jessica Penman

As we gear up for what we can only imagine is going to be a heated election cycle on a national level, it’s easy to overlook the profound impact and importance of local elections. The decisions made at the local level often have a more direct and immediate effect on our daily lives than those made in Washington. Such choices impact how our tax dollars are used in our town. From road repairs to public safety to school funding and fire prevention, local governments play a crucial role in shaping this community we call home.

Local elections are democracy in action, serving as a direct way for citizens to influence the policies and priorities of their communities. Unlike national elections, where it can be hard to see how your vote is making a difference, local elections often come down to a few hundred or sometimes even fewer votes. This year, there are over 18 elected positions open in the Truckee area, and even more regionally. If you are looking for a way to get involved and make a difference, this is your chance.

As the president and CEO of the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, I am always interested in what candidates feel about our business community and how they can support it. Whether it is the price of utilities, construction reach codes (local ordinances that exceed the state’s energy and green building codes), or environmental initiatives, I want to make sure that the people leading us are aware of all the impacts of their decisions. As a resident, I want to ensure that my elected officials are available to hear my concerns and make change. By electing representatives who share your values and priorities, voters can affect meaningful change at the grassroots level.

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Civic engagement fosters a sense of community and collective responsibility that is essential for a healthy democracy and a healthy community. When citizens are actively involved in the political process, they develop a greater sense of ownership over the choices that impact our lives. This, in turn, promotes transparency, accountability, and trust in government institutions, laying the foundation for a more inclusive and responsive democracy. It is an elected official’s job to meet with constituents and hear their thoughts and concerns. If you are looking to make a change, talk to the people we put in charge, or become one.

We are a diverse community, and our representatives should reflect that. We should be using our local elections as an opportunity to bridge the gap between different segments of society and foster greater social cohesion. Do you know a local leader with a unique or different perspective from what you see in our elected leadership? Encourage them to run! In diverse communities, local elections offer a forum for dialogue and collaboration among individuals with varying backgrounds and perspectives. We can overcome divisions and forge a stronger sense of solidarity and unity by working together to address shared challenges.

There are numerous ways to participate in local politics and make a difference in your community, whether you want to run for office or not. One of the easiest ways to become involved is to attend local meetings. All town council, board, and commission meetings are public. A lot of them are also live-streamed or recorded for later viewing. Agendas must be posted before a meeting so you are able to see if something that interests you is going to be discussed. The rules of public meetings can seem a little overwhelming if you haven’t been to one before, but you are encouraged to participate. You will have the opportunity to make a public comment on agenda items (generally limited to three minutes), as well as on topics not listed on the agenda if you desire to do so. One of the things to remember when you are giving public comment is that the council or board cannot directly answer any questions you might have. That can be frustrating, but they can ask staff to add things to future agendas. Your voice matters!

If you want to be more involved but are not ready to run for election, there are also committees or commissions you can look to join. I currently sit on the Town of Truckee’s River Revitalization Steering Committee, and before moving to Truckee I sat on the Yountville Arts Commission, Napa County Arts & Culture Committee, and the Napa Transportation Authority Citizens Committee, to name a few. There are lots of opportunities, no matter your interest, to get involved. You can visit the Town of Truckee, Nevada and Placer counties, or other special district websites to see what openings currently exist.

If you are interested in running for office this election cycle, the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe (CATT) Political Action Committee, is hosting a How to Run for Office workshop at the Lift Workspace in Truckee on Wednesday, April 17, from 12 to 4 p.m. The workshop will help participants learn about how to start the election process, campaign marketing, and finances, and they will also learn from a panel of past and present elected officials. You can find more information at truckee.com

Local elections and civic engagement are vital components of a healthy democracy. By participating in local politics, you can have a direct impact on the issues that matter most to you and help shape your communities.

~ Jessica Penman is the president and CEO of the Truckee Chamber of Commerce. She has extensive experience in marketing, sales, membership relations, community development, and workforce issues. She has a BA in anthropology and classical civilizations, and a MA in Egyptian archaeology from University College London.

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