Mayor Offers Advice for Those Seeking Office
FOCUS recently spoke with Mayor Chris Meyer, who shared his advice for those looking to run for office next April. Meyer became Mayor on April 1, 2008 and has held that office ever since. He will not be seeking re-election this spring.
“It’s official. Time to retire. Thank you to all who supported me over the last 10 years. I will miss this job but am proud of what we accomplished!” he wrote on Facebook.
What is most rewarding about being in a local public office position?:
By far, the most rewarding experience as Mayor is being able to help people in our community. This might be as simple as providing information about when yard waste will be collected or as complex as working to maximize the efficiency of a taxi service that is providing over 100,000 rides annually with limited access to funds to expand to meet ridership demands. The bottom line is that residents count on you to be responsive to their needs. While this is a heavy obligation, it is also one of the most rewarding aspects of being mayor.
You’ve been doing this a long time…what advice can you offer those seeking to run for Mayor next April?:
The advice I would provide is: Do not run for Mayor if you have an agenda. That applies to any elected position. When I ran the first time, I never promised anything. I promised to listen and make decisions based on what was the best interests of the city. A single elected official can not deliver on a promise unless they can convince a majority of the council to go along with the change. That becomes exponentially more difficult when you campaign and say YOU will make that change happen. It doesn’t work like that.
I have seen many examples of people who ran for elected office to “slash and burn budgets” or to make other drastic changes. The problem with this is that no one, not even the Mayor, can make these changes on their own. They need to collaborate and compromise with others on the council in order to make changes a reality. Most importantly, they often learn the reasons why something is done the way it is and realize they can not change it, despite the promises they made. Don’t promise anything except to always listen and make decisions based on the good of the entire community.
To be successful as mayor, you also have to remember that you are the elected leader for all residents. Not just those that voted for you, but everyone. This includes the person who is always posting negative comments about you on social media, the people who complain about you or the council over coffee and even the people who call you upset and become personal in their comments toward you. They are all residents. I oftentimes had to remind myself that they weren’t mad at Chris Meyer, they were mad at the Mayor.
Be open-minded. By this I mean, be willing to find compromise and offer alternatives that can achieve whatever goals you are working on while also meeting the needs of those who may oppose that goal. It’s not always possible, but a successful Mayor is always trying to find the common ground in a debate. I’ve often said that the “right answer is somewhere in the middle” and this has served me well as mayor. Invariably, there will be a time where half the council wants to do X and the other half wants to do Z. As mayor, it is your job to get both sides to option Y, which is a done through compromise.
Anything else you’d like to add?:
Leadership is a game of chess, not checkers. You have to be constantly thinking several moves ahead.
Listen. Lead. Succeed. This was my campaign slogan 10 years ago, and I firmly believe in it. As mayor you are elected to first listen, then find a way to move forward. Listen first.
Always adhere to your values and morals. When I was first elected, I told a mentor of mine
that “I would be fine if I just did what my constituents wanted”. He responded by telling me that as Mayor I would have more information available to me than the average resident and that whatever decision I made needed to be one that allowed me to sleep at night. This essentially means that there will be tough decisions, decisions that may make people upset but that are in the best interests of the community. As Mayor, you need to be able to explain your decisions in a way that people will understand. They won’t always agree, but the role of Mayor is to lead and that entails making difficult decisions that are sometimes unpopular. Always make sure you can sleep with at night with the decisions you make.
Finally, I never felt I needed to be Mayor all by myself. I had the support of my family. I had incredible resources available to me in our professional staff throughout the city. Most importantly, I talked with former Mayors who were always willing to help and provide some advice when asked. Use this pool of former Mayors, especially early on when you are still learning. Every one of us loves this community and wants the next Mayor to be successful and we are here to help in anyway we can.