The World is Run By Those Who Show Up – Influencing Policy Without Running For Office

Bigfork Chamber of Commerce | 12/2018 | Kim Morisaki

At least once a month I find myself on my soap box.  Some of you who know me are thinking to yourselves “Only once a month?” But this particular soap box is about the importance of citizens desiring change to serve on a county or city board.  Perhaps that sounds boring – how can sitting in a bunch of meetings make a difference?  The point is that if you are on a Board of Directors, you aren’t sitting – you are advising, deciding and directing.  And the world is run by those who show up.

So if you want better baseball fields in Bigfork, or library or infrastructure services, or a recycling program – influencing that decision doesn’t have to involve campaigning or raising funds to get elected.  There is nothing particularly magical about it.  You don’t even need to be an expert on the topic, but some passion combined with a willingness to study and learn from others is recommended.  Often it is a board made up of local residents that is setting the tone and direction for policy; and becoming one of those leaders involves writing a letter of interest and showing up prepared.

If you regularly find yourself saying “Someone should do…”, I would argue that you NEED to serve on a board.  Stop suggesting, and start doing! At the county level there are the Solid Waste Board, Fair Board, Library Board and Weeds/Parks and Rec Board and many Land Use Advisory Boards.  Of course there are also the Port Authorities – the Airport Authority and the Flathead County Economic Development Authority.  These volunteers create the vision, oversee finances and determine the actions taken that impact what does or does not change in our community.

When I first moved back from Japan, I thought that I did not know enough about to serve, but that way of thinking might keep the people best suited to collaborate with fellow board members and staff from serving their community. Now I realize it is like being on a hockey team, everyone has a role to play and brings their skills to the table even if they aren’t ready for the NHL.  What is needed is the ability to creatively solve problems and the willingness to make the hard decisions to maximize scarce resources for the greatest good.  If everyone waited until they were experts, nothing would ever get done!

I was fortunate enough to present to Leadership Flathead recently. This program to educate emerging and current leaders about relevant civic issues is fabulous.  I can’t recommend it enough.  Each year it provides opportunities to a class of 30+ to learn directly from decision makers in all areas of industry and local government.  It is the perfect preparation to step forward into a role as on a board member or other position of leadership.

County board positions come open at the first of the year and a list can be viewed at https://flathead.mt.gov/commissioner/ starting in early November.