On Tuesday, people in Mountain Home and Glenns Ferry will head to the polls to cast their votes on what I expect will set the tone and direction both communities will take for at least the next four years.
This year's elections come at a time when the national economy is showing signs of sluggish but steady growth, which is just now trickling down into communities like ours. It's going to take a steady hand on the "helm" to ensure we take advantage of this respite from the recession without getting overconfident.
Before I go any further, I felt it important to take a minute and recognize Mayor Tom Rist, who took over as the head of Mountain Home during what became some of the most turbulent times in the city's history. I don't believe there were a lot of elected officials across the state that thought the pending housing market collapse and recession would be nearly as bad as some economists had feared.
But our mayor and a few others out there were looking ahead at the "what if" factor and took steps to keep their cities ready to deal with the worst-case scenario. Of course, it meant making some very unpopular choices and cutting back on all non-critical purchases and kept city crews from making wanted repairs to our streets.
However, playing it safe worked. It helped save Mountain Home from what would've been an utter disaster. We weathered the recession a lot better than other communities, who didn't adopt the austerity measures we reluctantly accepted.
While city employees are only now starting to see any tangible boost in their salaries, at least we didn't have to issue pink slips to any of these workers. Not a one.
While he didn't make a very popular decision regarding the city's budget, Tom Rist made the right one. For that reason, I believe he deserves a great deal of thanks.
The decisions he made over the last eight years are the same types of choices that could appear once Mountain Home has a new mayor and the city councils here and in Glenns Ferry take their seats. Whoever is elected to those positions of authority, I hope they understand the level of trust that's being placed in their hands.
During my six years with the Mountain Home News, I've had a front-row seat on what it takes to run a city. Despite what some people might think, it's not an easy job and one that I personally wouldn't want, regardless of how well it paid.
Contrary to what people might think, getting elected doesn't mean that the community is going to bow in reverence and throw rose pedals on the ground as you walk by. Instead, you're more likely to have people boo or throw rotten fruit in your general direction.
Someone once told me that being elected to a leadership position simply tells the critics and pundits out there that a new "target" is being set up down range. After seeing firsthand how nasty these critics can get, I believe it.
Being in charge of running a city is a lot more than, shaking people's hands or kissing babies. These individuals quickly become subject matter experts on everything from balancing a multimillion dollar budget to dealing with personnel issues in each city department.
They need an in-depth knowledge of how everything in the city works. This includes everything from where our water comes from and where our "poo" goes afterward.
While none of them are certified lawyers, they need to have a solid grasp on local, state and federal law and how they intertwine (or sometimes conflict) with one another. They are the ones who approve new laws and update existing ones, knowing that someone down the line will likely have issues with those ordinances.
And when a local citizen stops an elected official to complain about a decision made by the city, our elected representatives are the ones that are willing to face the music by either standing by their decisions or willing to listen to a difference in opinion.
Those new to the world of politics quickly learn to grow an extremely tough "skin." But at the same time, they need to remain equally sympathetic to the needs of those they represent.
On a broader scope, these people play the role of diplomat in their dealings with our state and federal lawmakers as well as the senior officials at Mountain Home Air Force Base. It becomes a delicate ballet of sorts to emphasize the base's strategic importance from a military readiness standpoint in addition to its long-time importance as an economic contributor.
And in come cases, those running our cities become miracle workers of sorts. Sometimes, they can take the proverbial lemons handed to them and somehow turn them into lemonade.
Take our sewage lagoons for example. They worked out a deal with a local farmer to take that treated water and use it for irrigation purposes.
While you and I couldn't use that water, it's helping generate a little bit of revenue for the city by helping produce food used to feed local livestock. All it took was a little bit of money, a lot of ingenuity and a willingness to take a chance.
Back when I was much younger, one of my supervisors taught me the importance of getting out and voting whenever possible. I took that lesson to heart and made the effort to register in as many elections as I could.
During my time in the military, I registered for absentee ballots so I could vote in the elections in the hometown where I grew up. If I didn't know the candidates or issues, I did my homework before I voted versus just checking off a box on the ballot.
I figured that if I didn't vote, I hadn't earned the right to complain when an elected official made a decision I didn't agree with.
Once I retired, I went ahead and registered to vote in the elections here. After all, Mountain Home is now my home, and I feel that it's important to continue to perform my civic duty, regardless if it's an election for a school board trustee or the next president of the United States.
From my perspective, all elections are relevant and important.
It only takes a few minutes out of our busy lives to sit down and vote, so get out there on Tuesday and perform your civic responsibility. Because if you don't bother to vote, then you really don't deserve the right to complain, do you?
-- Brian S. Orban